Imagine a world filled with well intentioned people but with no laws.
Imagine, for instance, a world full of good people but with no traffic rules – with no agreed upon right of way, with no yield signs….Hmm. What would that world look like? How would we manage?
Last week we read the Torah portion of Yitro. We read the Ten Commandments. We stood, listening to the chanting of the Ten Commandments, as we imagined ourselves at the foot of Mount Sinai. We imagined ourselves receiving God’s “outline for good living” boiled down into those famous Ten Commandments.
Many people wonder why God needed us to receive more laws, beyond the Ten Commandments. But, just imagine what it would have been like to live in a world with only the Ten Commandments and nothing more by which to organize our lives and to manage our expectations in relation to others….It is really would be like living in a world with no detailed laws, no traffic regulations, no right of way, no yield signs. It would be difficult to cross a street. It would be impossible to feel safe or to relax.
Thankfully, we live in a society that sets parameters of behavior for us! We have rules that help us to be productive, creative, safe, and relaxed, because there is a certain level of predictability that we can count on in life.
The Torah understood that the Ten Commandments are not enough to give us the sense of security we have come to expect when we live in a “civilized” society. That is why the Torah follows the Ten Commandments with a series of “Mishpatim” [laws]. These laws set out to detail a vision of a society that translates the spirit of the Ten Commandments, turning the Ten Commandments from a brief outline into a concrete way of life.
Mishpatim begins with laws governing slavery. It then goes on to discuss laws of damages, of hiring and of borrowing, of judicial integrity and more…. Focusing our attention on slavery, and particularly on the people who are at the margins of our society – on the people who are often “invisible” – the Torah reminds us again and again that we must not overlook those who are marginalized. While slavery is not the ideal, as long as it exists, ignoring its reality is even worse!
The Torah is asking us to open our eyes, to look beyond ourselves, and to take into account our responsibility for all segments of our society. These are the laws…They can be adjusted over time, but Torah teaches us that we need detailed laws to draw our attention to the real world, to real people, and ultimately to the goals we aspire to achieve as individuals and as a community.
The Torah, – its stories, its revelation, and, yes, its laws – are all a precious gift. Without laws, it would be difficult to imagine how we would survive, much less thrive, in the complex sea of real life.
Rabbi Gilah Dror
P.S. Rosh Chodesh Adar will be on Wednesday night, Thursday and Friday of this coming week. This Shabbat we will recite the blessing for the upcoming new Jewish month of Adar. May it be a month of joy, of blessing, and of healing for all!
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