I was zocheh to attend a kiddush given in honor of the 50th wedding anniversary of my good friends Miriam and Joel Newlander; they should merit continued success and nachas on their life together as they continue to grow together in Torah. I told them, though, that I was not impressed. After all, they are both amazingly nice people; how hard is it to stay together when you are both so compatible and nice. "You want to know something worth praising? Look at my wife; she has had to put up with me for almost 36 years!" My wife nodded in enthusiastic agreement. In fact, I can't remember when she has shown such heartfelt and enthusiastic agreement for something I said. Hey... wait a minute...
Any way, it is no longer "almost 36 years"; today marks a full 36 years since her first marriage. R' Plotnik explained a strange passage in the Torah and used it to explain the significance of a 50th wedding anniversary. The Torah says that if an eved ivri at the end of seven years says he does not want to leave his master, then he gets his ear pierced and becomes an "eved olam" -- a slave forever. However, as Rashi notes "offen ort" (on the spot; though I've never figured out the praise of that... where else is he likely to note it?), this can't possibly mean that he will be a slave to this master forever because the Torah in another place tells us that he goes back to his ancestral land at the Yovel. (That's the 50th year; see the connection?) Rather, it means that he becomes an eved for the "world of that yovel". The obvious question is: so why does the Torah call that l'olam/forever?
R' Plotnik suggested the following. Why does someone become an eved ivri? He was down on his luck and either sold himself or stole and was sold by beis din. Either way, circumstances forced him into the position of having to give up his freedom to another human being. When the Torah releases him, however, and he chooses to continue as a slave, he is making much more than a financial decision. He is declaring himself to be a slave. He has gone from "eved b'mikra" to "eved b'etzem". He is no longer a free person who has been forced to temporarily give up some freedoms to pay a debt. He is now made himself into a slave; a permanent change to what he is -- an even olam. Even after he leaves his master and goes back home, he is still a slave; forever.
You can make all the jokes you like noting the similarity between slavery and marriage (heaven knows, I certainly have). After 50 years of marriage, however, a permanent change has been wrought. The two young (ie, selfish) people who entered that marriage are now two people who have learned to make the needs of another at least as important as their own needs. Instead of doing chesed because "you have to give to get", to people who do chesed because; just because. In other words, they have become more like their Creator.
In truth, the Torah is not at all against slavery or being a slave. The Torah does look down on a Jew being a slave to another human, but the Torah lauds being a slave of HaShem. A Torah marriage, then is really a beautiful vehicle to achieving divinity. And that's no joke.