<I>Emor</I>: An Eye for an Eye

One who physically harms another deserves to have his own eye or hand cut off, but of course this kind of punishment is impossible. He should, though, be aware that this is the punishment he really deserves, and that it is incumbent upon him to achieve forgiveness from the injured party (Gur Aryeh).

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Rabbi Shlomo Aviner

Judaism לבן ריק
לבן ריק
צילום: ערוץ 7
The punishment for physical injury first introduced in Exodus 21:24 is repeated in our parsha: "And if a man maim his neighbor, as he has done, so shall be done to him... eye for eye...." (Leviticus 24:19) This is interpreted in the Oral Law as referring to monetary payment.

Our sages provided many logical proofs for this interpretation, such as the hypothetical case of a man who was already blind in one eye (see Baba Kama 83b, 84a). It was also the subject of a famous debate between the Karaites and Rabbi Sa'adia HaGaon (see commentary of Ibn Ezra on Exodus 21:24 and Leviticus 24:19). The question then arises as to why the Torah itself did not specify that the punishment was to be monetary.

The Maharal explains that this is so we should not think that monetary payment is sufficient to atone for the loss caused - as it is in the case of one who causes the death of another man's animal. One who physically harms another deserves to have his own eye or hand cut off, but of course this kind of punishment is impossible. He should, though, be aware that this is the punishment he really deserves, and that it is incumbent upon him to achieve forgiveness from the injured party (Gur Aryeh).

The Vilna Gaon explains that the guilty party deserves to be punished by "an eye for an eye" to teach him that Man's limbs cannot be assigned a mere monetary value. However, the actual punishment is monetary because the Torah has mercy on him. This is the same message taught in the Talmud. First, it explains that the Torah verse is to be interpreted as referring to monetary payment. Then, Rabbi Eliezer objects and Rav Ashi suggests a further interpretation. It is not the value of the injured man's limb that is to be paid, but rather that of he who caused the injury - in cases where his own limb is the more valuable - to teach him that he really deserved the punishment of losing his own limb.

Rabbi Zvi Yehuda Kook explains that the Written and the Oral Torah complement each other here. The Written Torah teaches absolute Divine ethics, while the Oral Torah explains how to apply the law. This can be compared to an angry father, raising his whip to hit his son in a show of anger designed to impress the boy with the severity of his actions. At the last minute, the mother grabs hold of the father's hand and prevents him from actually hitting the son. Their actions are really coordinated in advance: The father's intention is to impress his son with the severity of the punishment he deserves, but he knows in advance that the mother will not allow him to actually carry it out.

So here, the father of the parable stands for G-d in the Written Law, and the mother for the Oral Law as interpreted by our sages (see Zohar, Ki Tisa 190b and Brachot 35b). Thus, the father instills absolute ethical values in his son, while showing him mercy at the same time.

[Translated by Bracha Slae. (c) 1997 Ateret Cohanim - The Jerusalem Reclamation Project. All rights reserved.]


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