This week’s parsha, parshat Mishmatim, discusses various laws. The law that the parsha opens with is the law of servitude. It explains that a person who steals something and can not repay for it is sold into slavery. According to civil law, this person is sent to jail.There, he will be exposed to all kinds of criminals: drug dealers, bank robbers, murderers, etc. It seems that throughout his sentence he will be influenced by these criminals, and when he is released he will have new ideas for crimes to commit — thus coming out worse than he was when he went in!
However, the Torah understands this person on a deeper level. This man is stealing because he does not have enough money, therefore he must work for someone for a few years so that he can build himself back up and establish a work ethic. He will have what to eat, and his master will additionally provide for his family. His master will act as a role model for him, and he will realize that one does not need to steal to gain money. When he leaves, his master will send him off with presents so he can have a fresh start. The parsha begins with this mitzvah so we can see the standard of kindness and mercy God expects from us, even towards the lowest people in our society.