I was recently speaking with a friend, a podiatrist with a growing practice in the Midwest. He mentioned that he had been observant for two years before he believed in G‑d.

“How could that be?” I asked him in surprise. “Belief in G‑d is the starting point of Jewish practice. If you didn’t believe, why would you want to perform mitzvos?

“I look at things differently,” he answered. “I am a scientist. To me, the practical application of a concept is more important than theory. Before I got married, I was looking for a way of life and a structure on which to base my home life. I saw that Torah-observant families shared greater communication between husbands and wives and between parents and children. Even people who I never thought could live with another person, had successful marriages.”

“That was enough for me. My wife and I began observing. Later on, we also began believing, but the first step was a simple matterof statistics.”

Parshas Mishpatim

The conclusion of this week’s Torah reading speaks about the Jews’ acceptance of the Torah. Last week’s Torah reading spoke about the giving of the Torah, so why the repetition?

There are, however, two dimensions to the event at Sinai: G‑d’s perspective and ours. Parshas Yisro relates that He gave the Torah, making it possible for man to relate to Him on His frequency. Until the Torah was given, there was an unbreachable chasm dividing man from G‑d. For there is no other channel through which a finite man can relate to G‑d in His infinity. By giving the Torah, G‑d reached out to man and granted him the opportunity to connect himself to G‑d on G‑d’s terms.

Parshas Mishpatim focuses on man’s response to G‑d’s initiative. To what extent are we willing to commit ourselves to Him?

There are some who are prepared to do what G‑d says when it makes sense. If there is a Divine commandment that they appreciate and feel a connection to, they will observe it. If, however, they do not understand, then they will pass.

Is there anything wrong with that approach? Well, such a person is not bad. He or she may indeed be quite refined and very pleasant company. Nevertheless, if the decision whether or not to follow a command is based on the person’s logic or desires, he is not making a commitment to G‑d; he is basically serving himself. He is his own man, not G‑d’s.

Ultimately, that can lead to a difficulty, for a person who is determining what is right or wrong on his own can easily err. Self-love is the most powerful bribe there is, and it is possible that it will warp a person’s perception until he will confuse good and evil, defining values solely on the basis of his own self-interest.

Moreover, even when the person does not fall prey to such failings and is able to maintain exemplary standards of conduct, something is missing. The word mitzvah relates to the word tzavsa, meaning “connection.” When a person fulfills a mitzvah only because of the dictates of mortal wisdom, his observance lacks the fundamental awareness of the bond with G‑d that the mitzvah establishes.

At Sinai, the Jews accepted the Torah by saying: “We will do and we will listen,” expressing their commitment to follow G‑d’s will even before they heard — let alone understood — what He would command. By doing so, they adopted an objective standard of good and evil, for it would be the Torah’s guidelines and not their own subjective feelings that would determine their values.

But more than that, giving such a spiritual blank check is the most appropriate way to respond to G‑d’s initiative. It implies that just as He is boundlessand unlimited, we are prepared to open ourselves to Him in an boundlessand unlimited way. This enables the Torah to bring about a complete bond with Him, tying us not only to the dimensions of Him that we can comprehend, but to His infinite aspects which defy all human understanding.

Looking to the Horizon

When speaking about the era of the Redemption, Maimonides emphasizes that: “In [Mashiach’s] days, all the statutes will be reinstituted as in former times.... This is the main thrust of the matter: This Torah, with its statutes and laws, is everlasting.” Maimonides is ostensibly teaching us something about the era of the Redemption, that the giving of the Torah will not be repeated; there will not be a new covenant. In doing so, however, he is teaching us something about the Torah.

By highlighting that Mashiach will not introduce a new truth to man, he heightens our awareness of what the Torah is. Man will not need a deeper and more encompassing truth in the era of the Redemption, because that is not a possibility. The Torah is perfect G‑dly truth. It cannot be augmented or improved.

In the era of the Redemption, this truth will be embracedby all mankind and this will be the catalyst for the environment of peace, prosperity, and knowledge that will characterize that age.

This leads to a further point. If the fundamental thrust of the era of the Redemption is that “This Torah, with its statutes and laws, is everlasting,” then by making the Torah the fundamental thrust of our lives, we can anticipate and actually create the mindset that will prevail in the era of the Redemption. This will expand the frontiers encompassed by this approach, helping it spread until it becomes man’s universal framework of reference.