This Shabbat is “Shabbat Mishpatim” and one of the topics of this Parasha is giving the laws regarding a slave. A slave has to work for six years and in the seventh year, he can walk away as a free man. Kabbalistic and chassidic literature, however, see a much deeper meaning in the here mentioned number six. The six years are seen as a metaphor for the six transformations a soul has to undergo. The Baal Shem Tov told the following story in his comment on Parashat Mishpatim:
The three Riders
Once the Maggid von Mezritch asked the Baal Shem Tov to explain him the verse “And these are the verdicts I am giving you” from the kabbalistic “Zohar”. The Baal Shem Tov told the Maggid to go to the nearby forest where he should sit down under a tree for a few hours. After the Maggid would be coming back, he should tell the Baal Shem Tov what he had seen.
The Maggid went into the forest, sat down under a tree and started asking himself what this has to do with an answer to his question. Suddenly a rider came on his horse, stopped right in front of the Maggid but didn’t see him. The rider drank some water out of the river right across and also his horse drank. While the rider was drinking, he lost his purse but didn’t notice it. Instead, he went back to his horse and continued his way.
A few minutes later, a second rider came along. He also got off his horse and he also walked over to the river in order to drink. He found the purse, looked inside, was happy and rode away.
Then a third rider came along who, again, stopped and drank from the river. In the meantime, the first rider had noticed the disappearance of his purse and came back. He found the third rider at the very place where he had lost the purse and accused him that he must have taken it. The rider denied and said that there was nothing. No purse.
The first rider got really upset and killed the third rider believing that he had stolen his money.
Meaning: In this life, the first rider paid his debt, the judge was punished for making the wrong decision and the second rider received his money back.
And this is what the “Zohar” means by “And these are the verdicts I am giving you !”
The Baal Shem Tov on Parashat Mishpatim