By A. Cohen

This week’s Torah portion, Parshat Mishpatim, discusses many of the details of the 613 commandments. Many of the laws are extremely complex, while others seem so obvious that one may wonder as to why they needed to be included as a law. Last week we just finished learning about how the Jews received the Ten Commandments and all the glory that surrounded the momentous occasion. Then immediately at the commencement of this week’s portion, the Torah discusses the laws concerning the Jewish slave. Two big questions came up while reading this portion. Firstly, why does the Torah need to innumerate the laws that are rational and the basis for any moral society (for example: don’t kill or steal)? Secondly, what is so spectacular about the laws of slavery that of all the laws, these were chosen as top priority and discussed first?

One would think we, as moral human beings living in a civil society, know the difference between right and wrong. Unfortunately though, history tells us otherwise. The Holocaust, for example, is one of the most extreme examples of how a “civil” society could do the unimaginable. How people who are educated, wealthy and cultured could be so inhumane and commit the most heinous crimes ever known to mankind. How the most advanced society of the time was able to rationalize killing millions of Jews, people with disabilities, or religious differences. It’s so unconceivable that high society people could stoop so low, but they did.

Having the Torah as a guide provides objective standards of right and wrong, which prevents the mortal human from being able to rationalize the most basic of truths. Without guidance from an existence much greater than man (AKA: G-d), us people, if left to our own construction of rules, would abuse power and justify evil. The Torah provides this guidance, not only for the laws that don’t seem to make logical sense (ex. Kosher, mixing wool and linen, etc.), but also for the laws that seem to be obvious and unnecessary to mention.

Now what does slavery have to do with all this, and what significance do the laws have that they are deemed worthy to be mentioned first? Slavery is a subject that seems to be long in the past for civil society, for life, as we know it now. Well, if you take a step back and think about slavery, you will notice a trend that still very much exists today. We are all slaves to someone or something. We are slaves to technology, our phones, food, material passions and pursuits, our habits and so many others. What can we do to liberate ourselves from these shackles of slavery? The answer is the Torah. When you learn Torah, you connect to something much greater than yourself. When you follow the Torah, you not only have a guide book that leads you to fulfilling your purpose and changing the world, you also don’t have to worry or think about weather or not you are or are doing what is right based on subjective standards. The Torah provides freedom within the seeming so many restrictions. Being a slave to G-d and G-dly pursuits allows one to be truly free in this constantly changing world.

May all be blessed with the ability to see what is holding us back from fulfilling our mission in this world, so we can break the bonds restricting us, and may we all do our best to connect spiritually beyond our limited natures. Shabbat Shalom!

This blog is for this week’s Torah Portion (Mishpatim – Shekalim; 29 Shevat, 5777 – Feb. 25, 2016).