It is telling this week’s portion comes right after Mount Sinai. After the revelation, we are brought back down to earth. What happens if your ox gores someone else’s? How do you treat servants? What are the laws on paying your workers on time?
I have read the Qu’ran and the New Testament. Yes, Torah read in English is not really Torah either, but a translation still gives the gist. And for me, day-to-day laws are the most striking omission in these texts. They talk in general terms about how to be a good person and relate to God. But there is much less about the specifics of day-to-day living.
In Judaism, these laws are fundamental. Right after Mount Sinai, God pushes them in our faces. Chapter after chapter of nitty gritty, everyday laws. The message is clear: you want to relate to God and you want the spiritual highs? Then act properly in day-to-day life. You can’t even start on the road to holiness if you’re not going to act properly towards the people around you.
I am too often horrified to see an Orthodox Jew impolite to another person, looking down on other people or, worse, who is dishonest in business dealings. It doesn’t work. You cannot mistreat people by day and be a holy man at night. You cannot be a scoundrel in the office and a pious man in the synagogue.
Treating others properly is a foundation of holiness. It cannot be bypassed. God has dictated to us that the road to him is via a relationship with those who are created in his image.
There are no shortcuts.
ω Rabbi Shaul Rosenblatt is founder of Tikun UK