Lazer Gurkow

Clean Up the Mess

Clean up the mess is what our Torah portion is all about. G-d made a messy world. One in which humans steal from each other, abuse each other, and damage each other’s property. A world in which animals wreak havoc and must be watched with an eagle eye. A world filled with poverty, suffering, and loss.

Yet, it is a world in which people treat their employees fairly and pay them on time. A world in which we reimburse each other for damages and assume liability for our fiduciary responsibilities. It is a world in which we provide for those in need and support widows and orphans. It is a world from which we step away every Shabbat and chag to forget about social standing and to celebrate together as one.

At least the world is meant to be that way. If we follow the prescriptions laid out for us in this Torah portion. And here lies the rub. If the world were perfect, there would be no need for Torah portions like this one. There would be no need to tell people how to treat their slaves if there were no slavery. There would be no need to permit killing in self-defense if there were no psycho killers preying on us and our children. There would be no need to enumerate our liabilities if we were up-to-date and honest in our business dealings. There would be no need to provide for the poor, if there were no suffering or poverty.

And now for the million-dollar question, why is the world in such a mess? Why did G-d make a messy world only to dedicate an entire Torah portion to tell us how to clean up the mess? Could He not have made a clean, tidy world? If He had made no mess at all, we would have no mess to clean up.

King David once asked G-d why He allowed poverty. Why did He not distribute wealth equally? G-d replied, “Had I distributed wealth equally, there would be no kindness.”[1] This is a deep concept. Had G-d made the world perfect, there would be no need. Without need, there could be no kindness. Without the possibility of kindness, we would have lost the soul of humanity. We would have traded in creature comfort for nobility of spirit. We can’t have that.

Of course, this begs the question: Why does the poor person need to suffer just so that the wealthy person can  be kind? There are many ways to answer that beginning with the inscrutable will of G-d. But there is also a fairly simple answer. In this imperfect world, each of us has needs. The poor person is in need of cash, but the wealthy person might be in need of validation, the next person in need of comfort, and the other person in need of companionship.

When you think about it, there are many needs that are worse than the poverty. A poor person who is emotionally balanced and internally happy is much wealthier than a rich person who is lonely, insecure, addicted, or traumatized. A powerful person who is trapped in a vortex of greed, lust, and power, is much worse off than a poor person who needs a handout.

Knowing that we can fill another’s needs empowers us. It gives us purpose, dignity, and meaning. Rather than feeling like wretched outcasts on account of financial poverty, we feel like critical spokes in the wheel of humanity because we give as much, if not more, than we receive.

So indeed, G-d told King David, I made the world a wretched place filled with suffering just so that there could ne kindness. Torah portions such as the one we read today legislate many forms of kindness. Each legislation reflects another fault with the world in which we live. Another aspect of the mess G-d made. And He made it just so that we could be kind. So that we could clean up the mess.

A Perfect G-d
All this leads to a fascinating observation. Perfectionists thrive on perfection, and it is painful for them to produce imperfect things. If this is true of humans who are inherently imperfect and for who perfectionism is a flaw, how much truer is it of G-d, the epitome of perfection?

It is only natural that a perfect G-d should make a perfect world. A world without needs, poverty, and suffering. Yet, the perfect G-d made an imperfect world and how hard that must have been for Him to do. G-d does not need to plan perfection. Perfection rolls off His hands naturally. Imperfection must be meticulously planned and executed. It is neither easy nor natural for a perfect G-d to Create imperfection.

Yet He did a masterful job. The perfect G-d Created an imperfect world perfectly. How painful it must be for G-d to watch humans use their free choice to maim and kill. To commit larceny and theft. To molest and abuse. To succumb to addiction or obsession. To be traumatized and broken. These things must pain G-d tremendously. And why did He put Himself through that?

Until now we only asked why G-d made such a mess. Now we turn the question to G-d. Why did He put Himself through the pain of creating, enabling, and watching this terrible mess?

And the answer is, He made it so that we could clean up the mess. Giving us the opportunity to make perfect what He made imperfect. Giving us the opportunity to be His partner in Creation. He Created an imperfect world, and we turn His Creation into something perfect.

We pay our employees on time. We give charity to the poor. We remunerate those whose property we have damaged. We take time off work to celebrate Shabbat and chagim. We turn this world into a blissful oasis, a paradise in which life is pleasant and enjoyable. We clean up the mess and make something of ourselves and the world.

This gives us a sense of accomplishment and achievement. Had everything been handed to us on a silver platter in a perfect world, we would have eaten the bread of shame. We would never feel that we deserved even a single morsel on our plates. We would feel worthless and undeserving. There would be little dignity and even less humanity.

So what did G-d do to make it possible for us to achieve cosmic significance? He did the most painful thing of all. He, the perfect being, Created something imperfect. And rather than step in and fix it each time someone does something evil, He empowers us to clean up the mess. When G-d made darkness, He did not create fire. Instead, He taught us how to build a fire and dispel darkness. When G-d made cold, He taught us to generate warmth.

He, the perfect being, endures the pain of producing an imperfect world. And why? All so we could step in and make something of it ourselves. Clean up the mess.

He Loves Us
What does that tell you about how much G-d loves us? He is willing to endure terrific pain to experience the exquisite joy that can only be experienced when a parent watches their child beam with happiness upon figuring something out and making it work. To help us feel good about ourselves, G-d went to incredible and painful lengths. Now that is love.

Can we love like that?

[1] Midrash, Tanchumah on our Parshah, Mishparim 9.

About the Author
Rabbi Lazer Gurkow, a renowned lecturer, serves as Rabbi to Congregation Beth Tefilah in London Ontario. He is a member of the curriculum development team at Rohr Jewish Learning Institute and is the author of two books and nearly a thousand online essays. You can find his work at
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