This week’s Torah portion is Mishpatim and it can be a bit confusing if you didn’t grow up in a Jewish context or if you don’t know about Jewish tradition. It can even seem a bit barbaric because this is the portion in which we are introduced to the concept of an eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth. That sounds horrifying to our modern ears. But it is very important to understand, as I have taught in the past, that this does not literally mean that if I knock out one of your teeth, that you are allowed to knock out one of mine. In fact there are five categories of compensation that the injurer owes the injured party. Those categories are: pain, incapacitation, deprecation, medical expenses and embarrassment.
I am sure that you have seen advertisements either on billboards or in television commercials (at least in my country I know you have) for attorneys that are willing to sue people for compensation. If we were just to follow the bible, if we followed God’s prescription for our behavior, we wouldn’t need attorneys willing to go after compensation. We would all be living by what the bible, what God, says. So when it says an eye for an eye and tooth for a tooth, I have two things I want to address about that.
First, this is always a reference to compensation and not to the injury itself. So if you injure someone and they lose a tooth, they need to be compensated for the value of the loss of the tooth. The same would be true for an eye. In this portion we get to the chapter that talks about bond servants. And we learn that if you knock out the adult/permanent tooth of a bond servant then the compensation is that they get to go free. Sometimes people owed money and so had to be a bonded servant for a certain amount of time. Even within those constraints there were rules, laws, regarding how long someone had to be a bond servant. After all, this Torah portion sets out seven and fifty year cycles at which they would have to be set free. But the loss of an eye or a tooth would require freedom as compensation.
Second, the Rabbis of Israel talk about how we can dedicate parts of our bodies to God. If we say I am going to dedicate the work of my hands to the Lord, then if I lose a hand in an injury it is in effect God that is losing a hand. We probably have never thought about this in just this way, but it really gives us a good context on injury and compensation and how the bible explains it.
As a bonus this week, I’d like to share a thought that comes from the Chassidic way of looking at this portion. And their way is this: the idea in Judaism is that God gives permission for qualified physicians to heal injuries, they do not have permission to heal without God’s word. The sages say that an injury or illness might be a warning, or a judgment, a wake up call from God. So a doctor, even one with pure intentions must first have permission from the almighty to heal. Now if we dig a little deeper in this Chassidic way of thinking, the Lubavitcher Rebbe says this, if a doctor gives you a prognosis that is negative or discouraging the doctor does not only have permission to give that. I love that the interpretation says that God only gives the doctor permission to heal, not just to give bad news.
Speaking about illness and injury brings me to Rabbi Shapira’s book the Besorah (the good news) According to Covid 19. Go to goodnewscovid19.net and buy a copy. It is a life changing and very different perspective on the Corona virus than what you might be hearing. Rather than praying against the virus, we need to pray that God gives us the proper vision for the purpose of this virus according to Rabbi Shapira. If you want further understanding about what to glean from this pandemic, pick up the book.
Nothing happens that is outside of His purview and nothing happens without His divine plan and command; not even anything negative. Not even something from Satan can happen without God’s stamp of approval. This can actually make us feel more secure in God’s plan for us, knowing that nothing happens outside of his divine blueprint. Even Covid 19, this terrible pandemic, is somehow part of God’s plan.
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As always, Shabbat Shalom and Kol Tuv