The Law’s Liberating Impulse

Passover teaches us that the Torah is rooted in a liberating event and in the movement from Egypt to Sinai we are given the pattern for keeping the freedom which we were given. When we see Torah in light of this liberating impulse, we understand better what the Spirit of the Law is, and what it is meant to do. If we believe the “New is in the Old concealed” then every liberating action inaugurated by the New Covenant must also be in seed form in the Old. Even a cursory glance finds this is true. Consider the two givings of the Sabbath command in Exodus and then in Deuteronomy. The first is patterned after the LORD’s creative work. The second is patterned after the LORD’s liberating work. Be like the LORD and rest. Be like the LORD and give rest. You have experienced God’s generousity in Creation, be like Him and rest in it. You have experience affliction from others, give them the rest they, like you, need.

In these two givings of one commandment are the first two liberating principles. The first is imitate God as you have graciously experienced Him, or “you know what He is like”. The second one is care for others with the same care you longed for or “you know how it feels.”

Imitating God is a powerful liberating force. Because God is generous, we can be. Because God is Holy, He calls us to be. Because God loves us, we can love others. “Be ye Holy as I the LORD your God am Holy” is more concrete and a steeper climb simply because we have experience God as Holy. At the same time, it is the call that frees us from sin. Because we have experienced the LORD as One Who is completely “other” we find ourselves with the freedom of being a bit peculiar ourselves. The pressure to belong and fit in can be a powerful force, and enslaving force. We say someone is a “slave to fashion” but do we think about what we are saying? Deuteronomy 4:7 says that following the LORD’s ways makes us visibly and obviously different.

Just after this, the LORD commands Moses to set up cities of refuge, where someone accused of murder can be protected from the avenger until they have had a fair trial. This is because He is a compassionate God, He will not fail you nor destroy you” (Deuteronomy 4:31) If the LORD can be compassionate and not judge prematurely, so must we. There is a natural impulse to promptly repay what we have been dealt and inflict what has been inflicted on us. There are cultural pressures that compel us to seek vengeance, that may easily enslave us, destroying others even as we destroy ourselves. The Torah by instigating a reflexive compassion, frees us from our impulsive judgment.

The other impulse, the “you know how it feels” impulse is also strong and pervasive in Torah A memory of our own experience of exploitation should keep us from doing the same thing to others.

12 “If your fellow countryman, a Hebrew man or woman, is sold to you, then he shall serve you for six years, but in the seventh year you shall set him free. 13 And when you set him free, you shall not send him away empty-handed. 14 You shall give generously to him from your flock, your threshing floor, and from your wine vat; you shall give to him as the Lord your God has blessed you. 15 And you are to remember that you were a slave in the land of Egypt, and the Lord your God redeemed you; therefore I am commanding this of you today.  Deuteronomy 15:12-15.

Simply, be generous to those who work for you. They have done more for you than the hourly laborer. Therefore do more for them. Don’t string them along. Set them free. You have been cheated, enslaved, mis-used. You know how it feels. In Exodus 22:20, 23:9, Lev. 19:34; Deut. 10:19, Deut 23:8, Deut 24:22 and others, we are commanded to be kind, generous, and welcoming to the strangers, refuges, aliens, or asylum seekers because “you were strangers in the land of Egypt.” Remembering our hurt should build in us the reflexive action of compassion that undoes our natural impulses of self-protection.

These are only two of the liberating impulses I have found in the Torah. As you study and meditate, I hope you will see many more. Does all this stand in contrast to Paul- well it seems to. But hold these thoughts in tension for now and we will look at that soon, I hope.

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