You get hit over the head, and lose 40% vision in your right eye. What is your recourse? According to this week’s Torah portion, Misphatim, you should take “and eye for an eye.”
Meaning…hit the other person over the head until he suffers the identical injury? Surely an impossibility. Which is why the sages understood that this law was never meant to be taken laterally. Instead, you may sue for damages–monetary compensation.
So why “an eye for an eye, a tooth for a tooth?” As one Rabbi taught, it is so you would not take an “eye for a tooth, or a tooth for an eye.” If someone knocks your tooth out, the monetary compensation should be commensurate with the injury. It would not be fair to have to pay damages as if it were your eye that was destroyed, which is more valuable.
A wonderful lesson for life! If someone hurts us, physically or emotionally, our response should be in keeping with the seriousness of the injury. We shouldn’t over react, or under react. Just as people shouldn’t minimize the damage they may have caused us (“you’re making too big a deal about this”), we shouldn’t make a ‘mountain out of a mole hill’ (“you forgot my birthday–I’ll never speak to you again!”).
Or, as the school’s sixth ESLR (Expected School-wide Learning Results) states:
“Students strive to search for the deeper meaning in life and determine that which is truly important.”
Knowing a big thing from a little thing.
-Rabbi David Vorspan, Rabbi-in-Residence