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An Eye For An Eye - Short Dvar Torah on Parshat Mishpatim

עַ֚יִן תַּ֣חַת עַ֔יִן שֵׁ֖ן תַּ֣חַת שֵׁ֑ן יָ֚ד תַּ֣חַת יָ֔ד רֶ֖גֶל תַּ֥חַת רָֽגֶל

Parshat Mishpatim is the source of the famous saying “An eye for an eye”

Rashi explains that we don’t physically take out someone’s eye. Rather, the offender has to pay his victim the value of his eye. This is determined by determining the value of a person if he were to be sold as a slave, and then subtracting what his worth as a slave would be without an eye. Rashi goes on to say that this same method applies for all limbs or organs.

The Torah then continues to say כויה תחת כויה - a burn for a burn. In this case, it’s not that a body part was lost or damaged. Rather, the issue here is pain and suffering. And the victim is compensated accordingly.

The Ramban explains the verse as a principle of equal retribution. This interpretation emphasizes the importance of fairness and proportionality in punishment. Or as Gilbert & Sullivan would say “let the punishment fit the crime”.

The Torah clearly recognizes man’s need for retribution, and even revenge, but keeps us in check, by not letting us be too harsh. Punishments need to be firm but fair and proportionate. This is true justice.



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