“An Eye for an Eye”
Parshat Mishpatim, are found a series of verses that emphasize the
inter-dependence of the Written Torah and the Oral Torah.
When read without proper understanding, they allow individuals to
draw distorted conclusions concerning the nature of “Justice” as taught
by the Torah, and indeed allow false assumptions concerning the nature of
HaShem, the Author of the Torah and of Morality.
p’sukim are found in Shemot 21:23-25, as follows:
“But if there shall be a fatality, then you shall require a life
for a life; an eye for an eye, a tooth for a tooth, a hand for a hand, a
foot for a foot; a burn for a burn, a wound for a wound, a bruise for a
first glance, these verses seem to demand a literal interpretation and to
express an attitude of vengeance that has justly been called “an eye for
an eye;” that is, if the perpetrator has caused the loss of an eye (foot,
hand, etc.), his punishment is to lose his eye (foot, hand, etc.).
Talmud in Masechet Bava Kama, Chapter HaChovel, the “One who
injures,” explains the true position of the Torah regarding the punishment
of individuals who cause others to lose their limbs or the use of their
sensory organs. The Torah demands a five-part monetary punishment,
consisting of Nezek, payment for reduction in earning power, Tzaar,
payment for pain suffered, Ripuy, payment for medical expenses, Shevet,
“Unemployment” Compensation, and Boshet, payment for
embarrassment and humiliation.
Thus, if the victim were a virtuoso pianist, and the injury involved the loss of his right hand, the payments might be computed as follows: For Nezek, an estimate would be made of his future earning potential as a pianist, now forever lost to him. The estimate might assume that he would have performed in one hundred concerts during the rest of his professional life, earning $100,000 for each, adding up to a total loss of earning power of $10,000,000.
Tzaar, the payment for pain, the amount would depend on the Bet
Din’s (Jewish court’s) estimate of his tolerance for pain.
In this case, the estimate might be $1,000,000.
For Ripuy, the payment for medical costs, let’s assume there
was an initial emergency operation, thirty five payments for rehabilitation,
and twenty payments for fitting and attachment of an artificial hand -
Unemployment Compensation, for the 3-month
period when he was “flat on his back,” and couldn’t even work
for the minimum wage: $3,000.
Boshet, payment for embarrassment; the estimate is made,
according to the Talmud, corresponding to who the one who did the
embarrassing was, and to who the one who was embarrassed was.
Since an artistic performer is generally quite sensitive, the amount
for this payment would probably be quite high, say $20,000,000. The total
payment would therefore be approximately $41,503,000, a large sum of money,
but not large in comparison to the loss of a career, and the loss of one’s
truth, that the punishment for injuries short of murder is monetary could be
inferred from the Written Torah itself, because the Torah says (Bamidbar
35:31), “And do not take a ransom for the life of a murderer, who is
worthy of death, for he shall surely die.”
This implies that for injuries short of murder, you can and must
take a ransom, as described above.
the question remains, if this is the meaning of “an eye for an eye, a
tooth for a tooth, etc.” why does the Torah phrase those punishments in
language that can mislead the reader into thinking that the literal
punishment is meant? The answer
to this is provided by the RAMBAM
in Hilchot Chovel U’Mazik; Chapter 1, Halachah 3, “When
the Torah states ‘as he inflicted an injury upon his fellow man, so shall
be done to him,’ the meaning is not to injure him as he injured his
fellow, but rather that he deserves to lose that limb, or to
be injured in the same way as he injured, and therefore he is required to
explanation is based on the fact that in Judaism, the concept of punishment
is associated with the concept of atonement.
Though the atonement for taking another’s limb “should have”
been to lose that limb, G-d in His Mercy accepts a lesser atonement and a
lesser punishment for the crime. But
for murder, the only sufficient atonement for that great sin is the loss of
one’s own life. Therefore,
the Torah says, “do not take a ransom for the life of a murderer,” for
the atonement would be insufficient for one who had extinguished a human
soul, a “lamp of G-d.”
The group that qualifies as the most intense haters and slanderers of Jews in our time are the Muslims, as a brief perusal of their “holy” book, the Koran, will demonstrate. And it is not coincidental that their own laws express the harshness and cruelty that they attribute to us. It appears that they may be the final obstacle for the Jewish People to overcome before the Arrival of the Mashiach. But to overcome them, in their Biblically prophesied awesome numbers, will require the help of the Awesome One, which we must deserve. And that will require of the Jewish people a massive wave of Teshuvah, Repentance; a Return to the Torah, to its study and the practice of its ways, and a Return to the One Who gave it as a precious gift to us.
Rabbi Pinchas Frankel