In this week’s Torah reading, Mishpatim, the Torah enumerates many, many laws governing human behavior and actions. Amazingly, the very first ordinance has to do with the proper treatment of Hebrew slaves; they can only work for six years and must go free in the seventh, and if he was married when he became a slave, his wife goes with him.
One would think that after centuries of slavery in Egypt, the Torah would forbid the practice, but that’s not what happens; it puts parameters on it, but doesn’t abolish it. Rabbi Yitz Greenberg, in this week’s D’var Torah for Hadar, points out that while the Torah and its laws are designed to move us towards a messianic world, it starts “by affirming the value of the real world as it is and the importance of living life in it.”
In other words, God meets the people where they are in the hopes–and with the intent–of bringing them closer to an ideal. The Torah reflects the reality of the world as it is at that time, and then works to improve on that reality.
We’ve come a long way since then, but many of the problems addressed then are still with us. People are still needy, workers are mistreated, women are treated as chattel or worse in some parts of the world.
We may never achieve perfection in the world, and I’m not sure I’d even want to. However, as in the time of the Israelites wandering in Sinai, we have a mandate to take the status quo and improve upon it, and that’s why God created humanity, to continually finish the work of creation. Now, having entered into the covenant with God, our responsibility takes on new meaning, and a new impetus to act.
May we be blessed to appreciate and to thrive in our world today, and to see the dreams of a better world fulfilled in our lifetimes. And may each of us be the ones to make it happen.