As the name Mishpatim suggests, this week’s Parashah deals with many laws. One of the most interesting of these laws regards self-defense.
“Im BeMachteret YiMatzei HaGanav VeHukah VaMeit Ein Lo Damim” “If a thief is found breaking in and is killed you are not responsible for his death” (Shemot 22:1). However, if the sun was shining at the time, there is responsibility for his death. There is a major discrepancy with practical Halachic ramifications based on how to interpret these Pesukim. According to the simple understanding, it seems that the difference lies in whether or not there is clear visibility. Ramban expands upon this by saying that the phrase “when the sun shines” it means that there is light enough for you to see and recognize the thief. Rashi, however, comments based on the Gemara (Sanhedrin 72a) that the sun shining in this case is a metaphor, that just as the sun is a source of peace in the world, if it is obvious that the thief has “peaceful” intentions and doesn’t intend to kill then you cannot kill him. The difference isn’t literally day or night, or, put more broadly, visibility; rather, it’s the intentions of the thief.
The Raavad (critique to Rambam Hilchot Geneivah 9:8), in contrast to Rashi and the Gemara, writes that although the Chachamim interpret sunrise by way of metaphor, the Peshat, the straightforward understanding, still has significance. If someone robs a home during daylight hours when people are not usually home, that means they want to avoid a confrontation, and we Halachicly conclude they do not intend to kill. But if thieves act at night when people are home, they are not trying to avoid human contact, and therefore, are considered likely to kill. The Maggid Mishneh attacks the Raavad, citing other Halachot in which we rely upon the Derash, the expounded explanation, instead of the Peshat to arrive at a Halachic conclusion. If we follow Derash for Halacha, why does the Raavad feel it necessary to contradict the Chachamim and utilize the Peshat understanding?
Rav Amnon Bazak suggests that the Raavad accepts that the Halachah follows the Derash, but there is still room for the Peshat to be utilized. Raavd believes that Chazal did not intend to completely exclude the Peshat from Halacha, but rather, chose to expound upon it, adding to it. Chazal explain that there is more to consider before taking another person’s life than the time of day—just because it is nighttime should not lead to the conclusion that the thief is dangerous and you may therefore kill him. An individual cannot use such arbitrary, circumstantial indicators to convince him to kill a fellow human being.
But the message here extends even beyond life and death situations. Too often, we find ourselves making cold, quick judgments and evaluations about others based on loosely-founded evidence with the goal merely to view the facts as we wish, our conclusions rooted more that which suit our best interests rather than that which the evidence truly suggests. Unfortunately we see such attitudes adopted on a national level, as the State of Israel regularly faces baseless charges whose ultimate goal is not to raise justice but to topple the country. Hopefully, if we improve our relationships with our peers in this regard, Hashem will look upon our nation favorably as a whole and remove these dangerous threats to our nation and state.