Inspiring words from Rabbi Menashe Wolf of Brooklyn:
“Judaism is often associated with ritual laws. If someone says that they are not an observant Jew, they probably mean that they don’t keep Shabbat or Kosher and don’t wear Tefillin.
But Judaism is really much more than that. It is a way of life that informs every area of our lives. So many of the values that we hold to be obvious in today’s society stem from Judaism: the value of life; the equal worth of every person; the responsibility we have to the poor and vulnerable. These moral truths have thankfully become accepted universally, but are rooted in the Torah.
This week’s Torah portion is titled “Mishpatim” or “Laws”. It details many of the civil laws that Judaism teaches, such as treatment of workers, respect of others’ property and compensation for damages. It follows directly from last week’s reading of the Revelation at Sinai. It is telling that these civil and moral laws–that teach us how to treat and respect others–are the first set of laws that were taught following the giving of the Torah. The message being sent is that respecting other people is the foundation of Judaism. As Rabbi Akiva put it: “Loving your neighbor a yourself – this is the greatest rule of Torah.” Or as pointed out by the sages: “[The ideal of] proper behaviour preceded Torah.”
So next time you come across someone who needs your help or a situation where you are tempted to do something that could hurt someone, remember that in Jewish tradition, being a mensch is the highest priority.