Laws and love


This week’s Torah reading, Mishpatim, contains a bewildering variety of laws, from the regulation of slavery to the prohibition of rumor-mongering to the protection of the stranger.  Judaism itself is often called a “religion of law,” and the proliferation of laws in the Torah and in subsequent legal codes like the Shulhan Aruch seems to endlessly bind Jews.  Living as we do in a culture that highly values personal autonomy, it is easy to see this system of law as a burden, a sign of God’s mistrust of humanity, a heavy-handed way to shackle the human spirit and force it in the right direction.  The ancient rabbis, however, argue strongly that the system of mitzvot springing from Torah is actually a sign of God’s favor and love for human beings.  Like a parent who gives a child structure and boundaries in which to grow, or a teacher who sets guidelines for a student, God so loves humanity that God gives us a system through which to realize the possibility for goodness that is implanted within us.  Of course, as children of God and life-long students, we have to find our own way through what can sometimes seem a maze of directives in order to find what is best in us.  But living–and even blundering–within the structure of Torah gives us the opportunity to put the wisdom of the ancients to work in the service of perfecting ourselves and the world.  And that is a path filled with love.