One would perhaps have thought that after the exalted experience of God’s revelation at Mount Sinai, the Torah would proceed to portray the idyllic life that Torah represents, both spiritually and physically. Instead, this week’s Torah reading describes a rather fractured world – one of slavery, criminal behavior, property disputes, physical assaults and negligent behavior.
Would it not have made the idea of observance more appealing if the Torah would have described a utopian vision of peace and harmony, altruism and good will, in short, a more perfect world? But, there is a great lesson in the parsha of Mishpatim with its dark, mundane, almost resigned view of human behavior and society.
The Torah has no illusions about human behavior. It recognizes that we were all driven out of the Garden of Eden long ago and have never been allowed to reenter that more perfect existence. The Torah does not promise us freedom from the problems of inherent human nature and resultant behavior. What it does do is to give us guidance – rules, if you wish – as to how to effectively deal with the problems that we face daily.
This view of Torah eases, somewhat, the terrible philosophic problem of why apparently good people suffer reverses, pain and defeat in life. The Torah teaches us how to deal with such situations, but it never guarantees that the situations would not arise in our lifetime experience.
A great deal of the analysis and worldview of the Talmud and rabbinic Judaism is based upon the verses of the Torah that are found in the parsha of Mishpatim. The verses in this parsha presuppose the existence, indeed the omnipresence of the problems and conflicts of daily human existence. Family life, workplace relationships, professional behavior and malfeasance, temptations of wealth and power, hurtful words, physical discipline, etc., are all dealt with in the parsha.
There is always a modicum of preventive behavior that the Torah encourages us to follow. However, most of the Torah addresses problems and situations that already exist. It speaks of the real situations that constantly occur in life and does not in any way guarantee that life’s problems can be avoided. Even the most righteous amongst us fall seven times. The challenge of the Torah is to rise again and continue.
Resilience is the key trait in a Torah personality. In fact, it is this trait above all others that has fashioned Jewish existence and contributed to Jewish survival throughout the ages. Surely, many a national and/or personal tragedy along the way could have been prevented and avoided. But that is all water under the bridge - a situation over which we no longer have any input or control. As Moshe so aptly put it at the end of the Torah, these are “the hidden things – the past that is no longer with us.” “But what is revealed and present before us and our generations is to observe and heed the guidelines of the Torah forever.” Torah wisdom and our resilience will always help us deal with life’s problems, issues and challenges.
Rabbi Berel Wein