Many of us would find this week’s Torah portion kind of…tedious. It contains over 50 laws and ordinances, and it reads sometimes as a long list of rules. Each of these ordinances requires focus to understand – and deep reflection to grasp – its deeper meaning and profound ramifications for your personal life, for human society generally, and for the building of a functional and moral universe.
You might be inclined to skim through all these rules, or skip parashat Mishpatim entirely. But just imagine: What if the world, what if our nation, what if our community did not have laws and standards at all? Imagine living in the ‘wild west’ or in total anarchy. The law of the jungle would soon prevail. For much of world history, it was the local bully, the rich and well-connected, the area warlord, and/or the nearby dictator who seized power and wielded it for their own gain and ruthless interest. Sadly, it still happens in our world today.
Sometimes though, there is a happy, hopeful ending. With Valentine’s Day this week, I was reminded of a particular love story that gives us some cause for celebration that order and justice, love and compassion do sometimes prevail. We are not all alone against the malevolent forces of chaos. No, we — the Jewish People especially, along with our other circles of belonging — are on a team, part of a family, organized and standing all together for peace and goodness. We often succeed in bending the proverbial long arc of the moral universe towards good in a hopeful way.
Please do yourself a favor and read this (abbreviated) article from the NY Times about a very special love story, published after Valentine’s Day a few years ago. This year, with society in Israel seemingly at a breaking point of divisiveness and ill-will, with American society polarizing itself further day by day, the point that writer Bari Weiss makes about the importance of unity, values, and a caring perspective and outlook on the world is even more crucial and urgent.
Rabbi Michael Schwartz