Many people have strong opinions on how we should solve society's challenges. They may believe that we have to help the homeless, the disenfranchised, and everyone else—but, often, they want the problem to be solved NIMBY.

Used to describe a person or an attitude, NIMBY is an abbreviation for Not In My Back Yard. A NIMBY might agree that a community or a neighborhood needs a half-way house for convicts transitioning back to society, but doesn't want it placed too close to his or her own home or in the neighborhood. (Urban Dictionary)

The NIMBY attitude is in direct contrast to the Torah’s perspective. The Torah’s philosophy is that if you are going to heal society’s ills, you cannot expect to write a check and have someone else solve the problem in some distant part of the country. Rather, you must roll up your sleeves and “get your hands dirty.” Only then can you expect to create positive change.

NIMBY is an abbreviation for Not In My Back Yard

This idea is crystallized in the Torah law that is perhaps one of the most uncomfortable laws to the modern ear: the law of the Hebrew servant. At first glance, it seems strange that the Torah, the epitome of Divine morality, could condone servitude. Upon close examination, however, this law contains a deep moral lesson.

The Hebrew servant is typically someone who stole and is unable to repay what they stole. Instead of incarcerating the thief—which does little to rehabilitate the criminal (the U.S. Department of Justice writes on its website that “in a 15 State study, over two-thirds of released prisoners were rearrested within three years”)—the Torah puts forth a system of rehabilitation.

The criminal becomes a servant for six years, and the money earned by his work is used to repay the victim of his theft. This service, however, is not performed in some faraway prison camp; rather the thief is sent to the home of an upstanding member of the community. The Torah expects that in the home of the “master,” the thief will find, perhaps for the first time in his life, warmth and compassion.

Now, let’s think about the host family for a moment. Why would they choose to hire the six-year servant in a contract that demands a great deal of the master? To quote Maimonides:

A master is obligated to treat any Hebrew servant or maid servant as his equal with regard to food, drink, clothing and living quarters, as implied by Deuteronomy 15:16: "for it is good for him with you." The master should not eat bread made from fine flour while the servant eats bread from coarse flour. The master should not drink aged wine while the servant drinks fresh wine. The master should not sleep on cushions while the servant sleeps on straw. . . . On this basis, our Sages said: "Whoever purchases a Hebrew servant purchases a master for himself." A master must treat his servant with brotherly love, as implied by Leviticus 25:46: "And with regard to your brothers, the children of Israel."

That said, why would anybody want to purchase a servant?

The answer is that the host family that is hiring the six year servant understands that you can't outsource your obligation to help the disadvantaged. They understand that if you want to help someone, it’s not enough to write a check. You must open up your home and invite the other into your family.

To illustrate this point in a modern context: Steve, my dear friend and study partner, was an officer with the NYPD, serving in the Bronx in the seventies. One day, he was called to a store where the employees caught someone stealing food. Steve approached the suspected thief and asked why he stole. The man responded that he had three children at home and needed to feed them.

Steve went in to speak toWhy would anybody want to purchase a servant? Mr. Hurwitz, the store owner. When Mr. Hurwitz heard what the fellow said, not only did he refuse to press charges but he offered the guy a job on the spot.

What’s most amazing about this story is that within three years the guy moved up from his job stocking the shelves to become a store manager.

This would not have happened had Mr. Hurwitz just wanted to help a lost soul. It happened because Mr. Hurwitz did more than write a check; he opened the door and let the other person in. And he did more than let him into his backyard; he let him into his life.