Ki Tetzei(Deuteronomy 21:10-25:19)
The Escaped Slave
This week's parsha contains more mitzvot (74) than any parsha in the Torah. Among them are various mitzvot that pertain to Jewish conduct in warfare.
Rashi refers to Targum. We must understand what he means.
"Do not deliver a slave to his master who was rescued to you from his master."
Do not deliver a slave - RASHI: As its Targum. Another interpretation: Even a gentile slave owned by a Jew, who fled from outside the Land to the Land of Israel.
WHAT IS RASHI SAYING?
The problem here is: What kind of slave – Jew or Gentile - is running from his master? Rashi refers to Targum Onkelos, who seems to say, "Don't return a gentile slave to his master." The Ramban understands this the same way.
If this is correct (the Mizrachi, on the other hand, says that Targum means a Jewish slave of a gentile master), then Rashi offers two interpretations, the first from the Targum that this is (according to the Ramban) a non-Jewish slave escaping from his gentile master. Rashi's second interpretation is from the Talmud (Tractate Gittin 45a) which says this is a non-Jewish slave escaping from his Jewish master. In neither case should the slave be returned to his master.
P'SHAT AND DRASH
The first is p'shat, the second, drash.
Why do you think the first is p'shat?
Hint: See the context of this verse.
An Answer: The interpretation that this is a slave running from his non-Jewish master fits best with the context of the previous verses. From verse 10 and onwards, the Torah speaks of Israel at war with their gentile enemies. This is the most likely scenario for a slave to escape from his gentile master to the winning side. He may even have heard that Jewish masters must treat their servants with a certain amount of decency.
But whenever Rashi offers two interpretations, we can ask a question.
A Question: Once Rashi has given us p'shat, which is reasonable and fits in well with the context, why does he need to offer a second, drash, interpretation?
Can you see why?
An Answer: The first interpretation is too reasonable! Meaning, it is obvious that if a gentile slave escapes from his pagan, idol worshipping master, we should not return him to that kind of life, particularly if he begs us not to do so. There is no reason in the world why we should return him to his master. This is so self-evident that the Torah doesn't even have to command us regarding this. Therefore, Rashi gives us the second interpretation, which is not at all obvious. This is a case of a gentile running away from his Jewish master. Why shouldn't he be returned? Why is one Jewish master better than another? The answer is that one master lives in the Land of Israel and the other does not.
In the Ramban's words:
"He (the escaping slave) should serve those dwellers of the Land of Hashem, and thus be saved from serving those who dwell in the impure lands (outside of the Land of Israel) which have no mitzvot conducted in them."
Spoken as a true lover of Zion! And the Ramban certainly was one.