‘I Love My Master, My Wife, My Children …’
The Torah notes (Exodus 21:5) that if an [Israelite] bondsman expresses his wish to remain in servitude by stating, “I love my master, my wife, and my children, I will not go out free,” he has to undergo retziah, namely, his ear is pierced with an awl at the doorpost. The bondsman’s statement refers to the Canaanite wife his master has given him and the children that were born.
The Gemara explains, however, that if the bondsman does not love his master or his Canaanite wife, or if he does not have a Canaanite wife, he may not relinquish his automatic right to freedom at the end of the sixth year by having his ear pierced – and he must go out free from his master’s service even against his own will.
Forcing His Own Master
The Chasam Sofer (Shemos 21:5) is of the opinion that an Israelite bondsman may demand that his ear be pierced even against the master’s will. Thus, the master is obligated to pierce his ear and retain him in his service even though he no longer has need of him or he does not wish to retain him further.
The Chazon Ish (Kiddushin, siman 148, page 14) disagrees and asserts that the piercing is performed only when there is mutual agreement between master and bondsman. If the bondsman wishes to have his ear pierced but the master has no desire to continue his servitude, the bondsman’s request is denied and he is set free.
Support From a Midrash
Rabbi Leib Gurevitz (Arza DeBei Rav 168) cited an interesting midrash in support of the Chasam Sofer’s view.
Before his death, Moshe beseeched Hashem to allow him to continue to live in order that he lead the Children of Israel into the land of Canaan (Deuteronomy 3:23-26). The Midrash interprets Moshe’s plea homiletically. Moshe, who is referred to by Hashem as “my servant Moses” (Numbers 12:7), pleaded that he loved his master (Hashem), his wife (the Torah – see Yevamos 63b, where the Torah is compared to a wife) and his children (Bnei Yisrael) and did not wish to go free (that is, to die – death is referred to as freedom because of the fact that a person is then “freed of the yoke of mitzvos”).
Moshe argued that he should be spared and be allowed to live in order that he continue to serve Hashem, just as an Israelite bondsman may request to extend his servitude.
Rabbi Gurevitz noted that this midrash offers support to the view of the Chasam Sofer that the [Israelite] bondsman may force the hand of his master [just as Moshe sought to do] and continue his servitude.
A Repeated Request
Maharil Diskin (Maharil Diskin HaShalem al HaTorah), referring to the baraitha on our daf that explains the repetitive wording of the verse (Exodus 21:5), “And if the bondsman will say, saying …” pointed out that the verse means to say that the servant may not have his ear pierced until he repeats his request. He suggested that had Moshe repeated his request, he would have prevailed. However, Hashem preempted that second request when He commanded him (Deuteronomy 3:26), “Do not speak further to Me…” Thus, Moshe was prevented from continuing his “servitude” to Hashem, since an Israelite bondsman must make his request not once but twice.