From The Other Side Of The Bench

By David J. Seidemann, Esq.

Early reports are that 31,000 tickets were snapped up by consumers as a result of the Delta Airlines fare glitch. It seems as if all of those 31,000 people were trying to get on my flight the other night. JFK Airport resembled Uman on Rosh Hashanah. Anyway, as I was sitting at the gate waiting to board, a sound bite of Washington DC at its best scrolled across the screen. In the last few days, the president made two of the most bizarre statements I have seen in a while. I can’t help thinking that the two statements were related. The leader of the free world said that there really is no difference between alcohol and marijuana. He also said that the reason why his poll numbers are so low is that the populace is still not comfortable with the notion that he is African-American.

I have to check some of my old newspaper clippings, but when he was elected after all of those people voted for him, not once but twice, I’m pretty sure he was African-American.

Mr. Obama, your poll numbers have nothing to do with your race. It’s not your color. Rather, it is your colored perception of reality. You are wrong on the economy, health care, the environment, and on Iran, Syria, and the entire Middle East. Most of us are still searching for a place on this earth where there is some semblance of any “policy” within foreign policy. I guess if there is no difference in one’s mind between wine and weed, there might not be a difference between freedom fighters and terrorists. If you can discount the history of addiction, it’s not so surprising that one discounts the history of a nation. The deviation from normalcy on a time-honored path is not the problem. Rather, it is allegiance to an entirely new belief system, an entirely new path that has so rankled us. And so after I digested those comments from the president, I picked up the book of Exodus, chapter 21, for a dose of reality.

Very interesting, this notion of being sold as a Jewish slave. The 13th Amendment prohibits involuntary servitude, but Exodus 21 speaks of two types of slaves. The first slave is one who has stolen and is bereft of the funds to make restitution. The court “sells” him to his victim to work off his debt. The second slave is one who has not stolen, but is poor and needs to sell himself to a master in order to survive.

At the end of six years, the slaves are supposed to be set free. But if they pledge allegiance to their new master, they undergo the grueling procedure most of our daughters undergo, that of the ear piercing.

Focus for a moment. Rashi quotes the Mechiltah, which quotes Rabbi Yochanan, who states as follows. The slave who stole has his ear pierced because the ear that did not heed “Thou shalt not steal” needs to be marked for life.

Rabbi Yochanan continues to describe the second slave and says, “The ear that did not listen to the verse, ‘You Israel shall be slaves to me, G‑d, as opposed to being a slave to flesh and blood,’ needs to be marked for life.”

The question is so obvious that I never noticed it over the last 54 years. The slave who did not steal, who after six years decides to pledge his loyalty to a master of flesh and blood, has his ear pierced at the end of six years because that is when he did not listen, if you will, to the commandment to be slaves only to G‑d.

But the slave who stole, and was sold into slavery for violating the prohibition of theft, should have had his ear pierced as soon as he was sold. And in actuality, he should have had his ear pierced as soon as he stole. That is when he personified the “ear that did not listen,” explained by Rav Yochanan.

So as I sit here at a restaurant typing this article and imbibing my drink of choice, coffee, I offer this possible explanation.

Stealing is wrong. It is a sin. And the ear that did not listen to the divine prohibition against stealing warrants punishment. His punishment is working to pay off his debt. But the piercing, that which marks him for life, is not for the theft. He too could have paid off his debt to society and moved on with his life. His deviation, slight as it was, yet severe as it was, did not brand him for life. What marked him for life was his love for his new master, his new way of life.

The theft started a chain of events which led him to renounce his connection and allegiance to a power, a philosophy that he believed in but deviated from momentarily. His thievery while on the proper path was a sin. But the travesty was his decision to embark on a foreign path. This made him no different from the slave who sold himself voluntarily. They both had a new master now, a new path with a total rejection of the old traditional path.

We can deal with deviations as long as there is recognition that the deviation won’t lead us over the cliff, in a drunken stupor (or in a marijuana-induced altered state).

Mr. Obama, give us some credit. One of your heroes, Martin Luther King Jr., said he dreamed of a world in which we don’t judge a person by the color of his skin. Trust us that we believe and practice that as well. That is not how we are judging you. Stay on course of your predecessors and you will be judged by the content of your heart. v

David Seidemann is a partner with the law firm of Seidemann and Mermelstein and serves as a professor of business law at Touro College. He can be reached at 718-692-1013 or


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