Emor: Damage to People

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No Hitting
08 May 2008

It is strictly forbidden to strike our fellow man. Even raising a hand to threaten someone is considered a wicked act.

The Torah tells us that if a transgressor is liable for lashing, “Forty [lashes] shall he be smitten, and not more; lest more be added to them and there be an excessive blow, and your brother will be disgraced in your eyes” (Devarim 25:3). Rambam (Chovel uMazik 5:1) points out that if the Torah forbids smiting even a convicted criminal more than the prescribed punishment, certainly it must be forbidden for anyone to smite his fellow man.

Rambam draws our attention to whom it is forbidden to hit – a wicked person. But just as significant is why the Torah forbids hitting him. The verse does not talk about his pain and suffering, but rather about his loss of dignity.

This emphasis on the loss of dignity is evident in other aspects of these laws. For instance, one of the five categories of payment that the assailant is liable for is the victim’s shame. (The others are: lost earnings due to permanent damage, pain and suffering; and medical expenses which are due to temporary convalescence SA CM 420:3)

And even though Torah law creates liability for shame only in a physical assault, many communities imposed legal liability for purely verbal assault (Shulchan Arukh Choshen Mishpat 420:39 and in Rema 421:13).

By the same token, the payment made to the injured party serves not only to make good his loss; it also serves as a way for the injurer to make amends and to effect a reconciliation between the two. This also finds a parallel in the verse we just cited. While the previous verse refers to the condemned individual as “the guilty person”, the verse above calls him “your brother”. Rashi explains that once he has received his punishment, he is fully restored to brotherhood.

Rabbi Asher Meir is the author of the book Meaning in Mitzvot, distributed by Feldheim. The book provides insights into the inner meaning of our daily practices, following the order of the 221 chapters of the Kitzur Shulchan Arukh.

The words of this author reflect his/her own opinions and do not necessarily represent the official position of the Orthodox Union.