Mishpatim: Torah’s laws as God’s love

The Giving of the Torah is the most important event in Jewish history as well as in world history. The Torah is the identity and constitution of the Jews because we can’t exist without it, and at the same time it contains God’s master plan for His Creation. This plan is partially revealed to us as the code of ethics through which we manifest and make tangible God’s Love. In this sense, the Torah contains the ethical and moral ground rules and guide lines for humankind, aimed to fulfill the Torah’s main message for all: “Love your neighbor as you love yourself, [because] I am the Lord.”

The ground rules and guide lines of the Torah comprise what it calls Commandments, laws, statutes and decrees, because we need to learn how to walk in God’s ways by emulating His attributes as emanations of His Love from where all comes to existence. Our Sages refer to statutes as the rules aimed to direct and conduct ourselves as individuals, and to laws (mishpatim) as the rules to relate with each other. We have to understand both as part of the same ethical foundation that God’s Love wants for us in order to manifest Love as our common Essence with Him.

We also have to be aware that every rule in the Torah must be learned because the purpose of human life is an educational experience, based on an empirical approach to the material world.

This means that we learn by trial and error, right and wrong, useful and useless, productive and destructive, positive and negative. We learn in this way from Nature as the “intelligent design” some name it in modern times. Our ancestors learned through this process and so do we. Animals also follow through this same pattern, and part of our learning comes from the way they behave and approach their environment. The main lesson we learn from animals is that they seem to understand Love as the Essence that gives life and protects life.

The Creator gave us human discernment to go beyond the obvious “basics” of Love (not as obvious to many). Through Torah’s educational rules and guide lines (let’s never forget that Torah means Instruction) we prepare our consciousness to assimilate God’s Love by being and manifesting Love as our Essence and identity.

Our Sages explain that the first law presented in the Torah after it was given to Israel is related to how we treat a Hebrew slave, and they refer to his bondage not only as servitude but as an educational process. They say that such slaves were men who committed transgressions such as manslaughter and robbery. Hence they had to sale themselves in order to pay for the damages that they could not compensate with money or material possessions.

In this context, bondage in the Land of Israel was part of Torah’s laws, not only as punishment rules but as educational and correcting guide lines for those who knew less and acted out of ignorance. In this same context we must understand the Cities of Refuge and the Levites as the places and persons that teach the children of Israel the ways and means of the Torah.

Let’s use an analogy to learn further the rules of the Torah. It is like learning how to drive a car or vehicle. Most countries refer to driving not as a right but as a “privilege”, because they consider that a privilege implies not only responsibilities but obligations. Once we are on the driving seat the rest of the people do not expect less from us, and we are compelled to drive carefully and comply with the universal driving laws and rules. There is a Spanish proverb, “there is no sane man on a horse” because it is presumed that a man behaves different on a horse by the fact that he is not by himself but with something that demands his attention and control. Hence we learn how to drive by also learning the driving rules. The key words here are “privilege”, “how”, “responsibility” and “obligation”.

As Jews we have the privilege to be the people of the Torah, which entitle us to learn God’s ways and attributes as His Love for us and His Creation, which are how we fulfill His will. This is our main responsibility in order to know who we are and our purpose in life, and we come to know this by learning it.

Our learning and knowing lead us to respond to the material world, and the ways we respond make us responsible. As a comprising and encompassing process, in this awareness Torah’s Commandments, statutes and decrees as ground rules and guide lines, are our ways and means to fulfill our obligations as Jews. In this sense we are naturally compelled and not forced to exercise our true Essence and identity.

There is an old saying, “to whom a lot is given, a lot is expected” and we are aware that the Torah is our Essence and identity as Jews. We know the Torah is God’s Love for Israel in particular, and for the world in general. This means that we are the embodiment of God’s instruction as the messengers and the message for human consciousness as a whole. There is no Love without its ways and attributes, as there is no God’s Love without His Torah. We also know this by experience because we are taught and instructed Love since the moment we are born.

We learn that Love is the Essence of all the Torah’s Commandments, rules, statutes and decrees, because they all are also Love’s ways and means. Let’s always be aware and mindful that all we are, have and do, are meant to be the cause and effect of Love. Likewise, God’s Love is the cause and effect of His Creation: “And you shall serve the Lord your God, and He will bless your food and your drink, and I [God] will remove [every] illness from your midst.” (Exodus 23:25).2

About the Author
Ariel Ben Avraham was born in Colombia (1958) from a family with Sephardic ancestry. He studied Cultural Anthropology in Bogota, and lived twenty years in Chicago working as a radio and television producer and writer. He emigrated to Israel in 2004, and for the last fourteen years has been studying the Chassidic mystic tradition, about which he writes and teaches. Based on his studies, he wrote his first book "God's Love" in 2009. He currently lives in Kochav Yaakov.
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