In Parashat Emor, we encounter one of the most shocking statements in the Torah: “VeIsh Ki Yitein Mum BaAmito KaAsher Asah Kein Yei’aseh Lo. … Ayin Tachat Ayin,” “If a man inflicts a wound in his fellow, as he did, so shall be done to him… An eye for an eye” (VaYikra 24:19-20). A simple reading of the Pasuk seems to prescribe physical revenge. However, this statement, as explained by the Gemara (Bava Kama 84a), teaches the principles of repayment towards the damaged party, and not physical revenge. A literal interpretation of this Pasuk is a fallacy, but has been used against the Jews for centuries as a proof that Jews mandate malicious violence to solve vendettas. If we know that the term “eye for an eye” refers to fiscal compensation, why does the Torah choose to use a metaphorical term that can be, and sometimes is, very misleading?
The solution to this seemingly pressing question is quite simple, but extremely valuable in its message. In most modern legal systems, the process of paying back money is a rather onerous one. After the judge sentences one party to pay the other party a certain sum of money, the guilty party most often pays money with much resentment and discontent. However, the Torah tries to mandate that the guilty party understand what he did wrong to the injured party. When the damager considers the incredible suffering he caused the victim, he is more willing to part with his money to compensate the sufferer. This type of understanding responsible thinking leads to a healthier society, where respect and understanding for others’ suffering is both encouraged and commonplace.
This message is so fundamental that the Torah is willing to risk misunderstanding in order to convey it. Similarly, when Hashem prepares to create Adam HaRishon, the Pasuk states, “VaYomer Elokim Na’aseh Adam BeTzalmeinu KiDmuteinu,” “Hashem said, ‘Let us make man in our image as our likeness’” (BeReishit 1:26). Rashi (ad loc.) explains the use of the plural “Let us” as conveying that Hashem consults with angels prior to creating man. Rashi explains that the Torah feels conveying a message—in this case, humility in everything we do—is so important that it is willing to provide an opening for the heretical idea of a plurality of gods. Hopefully, we will be able to read the Pesukim for the messages behind them and internalize those ideas.