Trust is a funny thing. Every day I see the way my one-year-old daughter delights in the world, and I get a little sad. She smiles at strangers, all strangers, even the creepy ones. At the beach, she tries to drink in the ocean water foaming in the sand. When older kids laugh at her, she laughs too, unaware that they’re making fun of her.

If we spend so much of our lives learning to be skeptical, how do we ever get to the point where we’re ready to trust each other?

All of this makes me sad, because I know it has to end. For her own protection, I must teach her that strangers can be dangerous, that ocean water is polluted, that kids can be cruel. She will one day know the difference between laughing with and laughing at someone.

I know this education is a necessary part of growing up. We’ve all been through it, and we’re all the wiser for it. When we’re young, it’s the strangers we have to watch out for, but as we grow older the list expands. Over time we come to the realization that many of the people or things we thought we could count on—parents, community, government—are just as fallible as we are.

So we become a little more guarded, which is okay. We need that protective layer. There’s just one problem. We spend our youth building up cynicism, then we come to our 20s and 30s and are suddenly expected to make all those big life changes, like marriage and kids, that require faith in our fellow human beings, not to mention in ourselves. If we spend so much of our lives learning to be skeptical, how do we ever get to the point where we’re ready to trust each other?

Parshat Shoftim offers an interesting insight into this issue. In describing the laws regarding judges, the Torah says, “You shall not deviate from the word that they [the judges of the Jewish courts] tell you, right or left.” Rashi comments that the verse is telling us to obey the courts “even if they tell you left is right and right is left.”

We all understand the idea of adhering to the law of the land, but obeying authority figures even when they seem to be totally wrong? It’s a strange rule to lay out, especially since the Jewish people are not known for their docile submission. Rashi’s quote reminds me of a famous story that also puzzled me when I first came across it. The Talmud relates that Rabbi Eliezer once had a disagreement with his colleagues about a point in halachah. Rabbi Eliezer said to them: “If the law is as I say, may the carob tree prove it.” The carob tree was then uprooted from its place, but the other sages were unimpressed. “One cannot prove anything from a carob tree,” they said.

Rabbi Eliezer pressed on: “If the law is as I say, may the aqueduct prove it,” at which point the water in the aqueduct began to flow backwards. Still, his colleagues maintained their position: “One cannot prove anything from an aqueduct.”

But Rabbi Eliezer was not discouraged: “If the law is as I say, then may the walls of the house of study prove it.” The walls began to cave in, but the debate raged on.

Finally, Rabbi Eliezer declared: “If the law is as I say, may it be proven from heaven!” And sure enough, a heavenly voice cried out: “What do you want of Rabbi Eliezer—the law is as he says . . .”

At this point, Rabbi Yehoshua stood on his feet and said: “The Torah is not in heaven! . . . We take no notice of heavenly voices, since You, G‑d, have already, at Sinai, written in the Torah to follow the majority.”

I know how flawed I am, and I know that no one else is perfect either, but I see beauty in the imperfection

When I first heard this story in high school, I was outraged. The whole idea of “majority rules” seemed so establishment, so military, and so completely the opposite of the way I was raised. My mother is a staunchly democratic ex-hippie, so I was always taught to question authority. I also found it strange that the Torah—perfect and timeless—would have this flawed human element built into its structure. How can it be perfect, I reasoned, if fallible human beings are given the power to interpret it?

I’ve grown up a little since then, though, and I find that the older I get, the less enthralled I am with the idea of perfection. Or maybe I should say that my notion of perfection has changed. It’s not the black-and-white, right-or-wrong of my youth. I know how flawed I am, and I know that no one else is perfect either, but I see beauty in the imperfection. There’s something inspiring about creatures with so many foibles working to perfect themselves when they could easily give up, daunted by the seemingly impossible task ahead of them.

I also see the brilliance in this story about Rabbi Eliezer. Like Rashi’s comment about obeying the judges even if their ruling makes no sense to us, the Talmud is teaching us an important lesson about trust. G‑d knew full well that He was giving fallible human beings the power to interpret His will, but he handed us the responsibility anyway. He took His Torah—so perfect and pure—and placed it in the hands of decidedly imperfect people who live in a decidedly imperfect world. By doing so, He let us know that sometimes being able to trust is more important than having everything jibe perfectly with our own sense of what is correct and logical.

Of course, that doesn’t mean we have to be naive, or that we should follow blindly, or that we shouldn’t inform our children about the dangers out there. We can still be honest about the flaws within ourselves and the world around us, just as long as we recognize that there are times when we have to transcend our skepticism and believe in our fellow human beings, and in ourselves. After all, if G‑d has faith in us, then we can certainly have faith in one another.