By Leibel Estrin
Perhaps the most misquoted verse in scripture is, “But if there is a fatality, then you shall award a life for 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 bruise.” (Shemos 21:24) According to secular understanding, the verse implies that one who injures another should be punished by receiving the same injury. However, the same injury will affect different people in different ways. So it’s impossible to fulfill the mitzvah of “an eye for an eye” literally.
The Torah must be referring to something else. How do we know? The Hebrew term is eyian tachas eyian. Tachas means “in place of.” Elsewhere in the Torah, tachas refers to monetary compensation. So the Rabbis knew that it must mean monetary compensation here, as well.
If the Torah wanted us to compensate someone with money, why didn’t it say so? The answer: we could easily miss the point. Compensating someone for the damage we caused could become as ordinary as buying milk. Therefore, the Torah stresses that we should feel another person’s pain as if it were our own.
An excerpt from the book “Judaism From Above The Clouds.”
Leibel Estrin has been writing about Jewish topics for four decades. He is working as a Jewish chaplain for the Aleph Institute. Leibel has recently published a work on Jewish perspectives and values entitled “Judaism From Above The Clouds.” To read more of Leibel’s writings and to purchase his book click here.