That’s What I Said but Not What I Said

The word, Hora’ah, means “teaching.” From this word, we derive another: Torah. From this association we know that Torah, which is the first five books of the Tanach and the Older Testament, is designed to teach in all its forms, be it a narrative, a poetic piece, a legal section, or an historical account. Often the text provides nuances that at first glance, are missed by the casual reader.

For those who’ve had the privilege to read and interpret the scroll, to be a reader, or to be an attendant, all are aware of what the scroll of Torah looks like. There are three to four columns [amudim] of text per piece of parchment and 248 columns and each has 42 lines. A completed Torah scroll may require approximately 80 parchments or [klafim] and contains 304,805 letters.

The three types of divisions we see on the Scroll are Closed Parashah, the Open Parashah, and the Book Division. The Closed Parashah is a separation of nine letter spaces. The Open Parashah always begins on a new line. The Book Division separates the text by several blank lines. Further division, the separation between sentences, is handed down to us through the Oral Masoretic tradition.

When you buy a Hebrew slave

The sentences that open or introduce sections in the Torah often suggest more information than our first glance provides. Whether the section of the Scroll deals with halachic material or a narrative, the reader should pay close attention to the nuances in the sentence in order to gather clues, which can reveal an important emphasis, a motif, or even the main message portrayed in the Parashah. One of the first keys to understanding the Torah’s messages is interpreting the layers of meaning in these opening sentences.

The opening sentence of this Parashah is no different. “And these are the ordinances that you shall place before them: If you buy a Hebrew bondsman, he shall work for six years; and in the seventh he shall go free, for no charge.”

On the Pashat [the plain-sense meaning], this section is dealing with the laws on the treatment of a slave from the House of Israel.

When you read the text “If you buy a Hebrew Slave,” and I hope you noticed one thing: the repetition of the phrase “go out:”

  • In the seventh, he shall go out free for nothing
  • If he comes in with himself, he shall go out by himself
  • If he was the husband of a wife, his wife shall go out with him
  • If his master gives him a wife, etc, he shall go out by himself
  • And if the slave truly says, I love my master, I do not desire to go out free
  • And when a man sells his daughter, she shall not go out as a male
  • If she is unpleasant in the eyes of her master who has appointed her for himself, She shall go out for nothing

In this section, the text discusses the Law of the Hebrew Servant, but it leaves a lot of information out. How does one buy a servant? Why would a Hebrew sell himself? Are there other reasons a person is put into slavery[1]? How does a master treat his slave? Why are females treated differently than males? [What are the slave’s obligations to his master?] The text leaves these and other questions out in favor of stressing a very important point: If you are in a situation where you gain possession of a Hebrew slave, keep foremost in your mind that this is a temporary situation. Always remember that setting the Hebrew free – letting him go out – is of the utmost importance.

Also of great significance is that the first Law that G-d gives the Children of Israel through their newly appointed intermediary, is a law that dictates how a righteous nation is to handle slavery. It’s not hard to imagine that our ancestors who just exited a backbreaking experience at the hands of ruthless taskmasters, found the opening command of civil law appealing.

In comparison, Leviticus 25:39-46 speak of a Hebrew who is sold or sells himself because he is poor. The plain sense of the text says that we are not to maltreat our servants and we are not to place them into bondage. I won’t threaten to read the passage to you, but within the text, you will see an emphasis arise with another repetitive phrase: “with you” or “with him.”

  • And when your brother becomes poor with you
  • He shall be with you as a hireling
  • as a tenant he shall be with you
  • he shall serve with you until the year of Yovel [Jubilee]
  • then he shall go out, he and his sons with him
  • you may buy of the sons of the tenants who are residing with you
  • and of their families who are with you

The Torah aptly reveals that the greatest way to make sure you never mistreat your brother – even a brother who is reduced to servanthood – is to remember that he is “with you,” or in other words, he is equal to you. Also take note that both passages contain seven copies of the phrase, be it “go out” or “with him.’ This is something else that should pique your ear as well.

The command of the Hebrew slave contains the first hint at a larger calendar besides the weekly Sabbath and the yearly celebration of our redemption in the Pesach meal and Chag Matzot [the festival of Unleavened Bread]. It contains a reference to the Seventh year, and the freedom it provides.[2]

I spent a bit more time on the First Commandment of Mishpatim than I intended.

Juxtaposition

Parashah Mishpatim is the most populous section of Exodus in terms of matters of law – tort law specifically. Within these chapters [Chapters 21 through 24], we see mostly laws governing social life in Israel, or Civil Law. Interestingly at the close of the Aseret haDibrot [the Ten Commandments] in Exodus 20:15 thru the end of the chapter, Hashem repeats the most important of the commands: to Love Hashem by [1] do not fabricate idols, [2] create an altar made of earthen material found as Hashem created it – unformed and not hewn. In recapping these ordinances, Hashem thereby completes the subject of idolatry and makes it perfectly clear how He intends His people to behave.

We must understand idolatry is the reverse of the purpose of the creation of man, which is to be obedient to the Almighty and to serve only Him. Anyone who venerates anything aside from Hashem as failed to achieve the purpose of his or her existence. Unfortunately, some of those who were delivered from Egypt failed to understand fully Hashem’s words and they convinced a group of people act upon this “hole” in the ordinance. They created an image, but we will see that story play out in three weeks.

While the end of last week’s reading speaks again of idolatry, Ramban [1195 – 1270 CE] found that Hashem reiterates, in like manner, the ordinances against “You shall not covet” with this week’s Parashah. The Ten Words spoken by Hashem from the mountain merely says, “You shall not covet your fellow’s house, his manservant, his maidservant, his ox, his donkey, or anything that belongs to your fellow.” He connects the phrase “For you, yourselves, have seen” from 20:19 to “You shall have no other gods” in 20:3. In like manner, He corresponds “You shall not covet” in 20:14 with “and these are the ordinances” in 21:1, for if a person doesn’t know the laws of the house, the field, and personal possessions, he might think they belong to him [or to anyone in the covenant] since the land was given to us as an inheritance with ultimate possession still in Hashem’s hand… so to speak. [Perhaps I need to rephrase that a bit: G-d takes the command against idolatry and expands it at the end of last week’s torah portion. G-d then expands the law against covetousness in the week’s parashah.]

Keri Ushesiv

In 21:8, there is a keri ushesiv, that is, a word in the Torah scroll spelled one way but pronounced or interpreted another. Here, Ibn Ezra points out that the kesiv [or the spelling] is Lamed-Alef “lo” or “not.” However, when one reads it, we are to understand the word to be Lamed-Vav, “lo” or “to him.” Therefore, the keri [understanding] means he should have married her to himself, and the kesiv [the spelling] means he did not marry her.

Lex Talionis

As Torah discusses the rights of the individual to keep his belongings and to assure their safety, it also considers the possibility of fights over property rights and how we’re to handle ourselves as part of the redeemed community. And Torah begins in 21:22 by saying, “If men shall fight[3] and they collide with a pregnant woman and she miscarries, but there will be no fatality, he shall surely be punished as the husband of the woman shall cause to be assessed against him, and he shall pay it by order of the judges.” By no means am I suggesting Torah permits the use of abortion, yet nor does it permit the murder of abortion doctors. The text does show sanctity for the living, but I prefer to leave the abortion discussion out of this.

In Ramban’s opinion, and I quote, “since the damage done is one that is not discernible in the unborn child itself – for who could know their fortune – therefore, Scripture said, that although he cannot be made to pay a precise monetary compensation, he should nevertheless be fined as a sort of penalty in the form of a sum of money which others [the judges] shall impose upon him.[4]” The husband’s demands are used as a basis for the judges to determine the actual amount lain upon him. However, Ramban also notes that if the two men agree upon a sum, there’s no need for them to go before the judges.

The passage continues in verses 22-25, “But if there shall be a fatality, then you shall award a life for a 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.”

  • Clarke’s Commentary says, “This is the earliest account we have of the lex talionis, or law of like for like, which afterwards prevailed among the Greeks and Romans. Among the latter, it constituted a part of the twelve tables, so famous in antiquity; but the punishment was afterwards changed to a pecuniary fine, to be levied at the discretion of the praetor.”
  • Gill’s Exposition of the Entire Bible says, “Eye for eye, tooth for tooth, hand for hand, foot for foot. This is “lex talionis,” the law of retaliation, and from whence the Heathens had theirs.”
  • Scofield Reference Notes says, “The provision in Exodus is law, and righteous; the N.T. passages, grace, and merciful.”
  • Wesley’s Notes says, “The execution of this law is not put into the hands of private persons, as if every man might avenge himself, which would introduce universal confusion. The tradition of the elders seems to have put this corrupt gloss upon it. Magistrates had an eye to this rule in punishing offenders, and doing right to those who are injured.”
  • The Interpreter’s Commentary says, “The law of retaliation well known from its rejection by Jesus in Matthew 5:38.

I don’t know about you, but I find those interpretations a bit harrowing, especially the ones by Scofield and Wesley. Wesley is the Church leader I historically have called the TULIP guy, and that’s about as close to him as I like to get. With comments like that I can’t help but see Hashem saying, “Wait a sec… That’s what I said but not what I said.”

These commentators carefully ascribe harshness to the commands in the Older Testament, while aggrandizing or enhancing the grace and mercy in the Newer Testament. Then, with that same mouth, these men say the Talmud disenfranchises us from the commandments by annulling the commands or making tepid the waters of Scriptural interpretation. They can’t have it both ways, but they sure take both slices of the pie. The concept that grace exists in Torah is a topic well worth the time and effort.

Yeshua is accredited by many as the great equalizer, making null all the commandments of the Torah and starting from scratch. For instance, Yeshua said, “You have heard it said, ‘an eye for an eye,’ but I tell you that you not withstand evil; but if one would smite you on the right cheek, turn unto him the other.” However, I submit to you, these Christain commentators have is an unfortunate misunderstanding.

According to Bava Kamma 8:1 in the Mishnah [The Mishnah being the basis for Jewish Oral Tradition], “He who injures his fellow, is liable to compensate him on five counts: injury, pain, medical cost, loss of income [literally loss of time], and indignity.”

From this Mishnah, Ramban tells us in his Torah commentary, that this “ayin tachat ayin” or “an eye for an eye” indicates monetary compensation. The Hebrew word, tachat, is the word used to designate this translation. Such usage is found in the verse, “and he who strikes a beast mortally shall pay for it: nefesh tachet nefesh [life for life][5].” In this Leviticus passage, tachet clearly indicates financial compensation. If not, then the only other consideration involves slaying an animal of equal value in retaliation, and frankly, that’s an unintelligent handling of the text. However, Ibn Ezra commented that the scripture really does mean the criminal deserves to have his eye plucked from his body if he doesn’t pay his restitution. To counter Ibn Ezra, Ramban reminds his readers that Scripture forbids us to take the ransom for the life of a murderer that is guilty of death[6], but we may take the ransom from a wicked person who cut off the limb of another person. Therefore, we are not to cut off a similar limb from him, but we are to exact compensation, and if he has no money to pay, it lies as a debt upon him until he acquires the means to pay, and then he is redeemed. In many cases, the assailant falls into indebtedness and becomes an indentured servant – often serving the very man he injured.

The verses from verse 12 through 27 all deal with physical manmade injury and they all have the same punishment: nonlethal and unintentional injury requires monetary payment[7].

For those who want additional proofs from the Scroll that Hashem intended “ayin tachat ayin” to be translated “pay the value of an eye,” I refer you to verse 19, “only for his lost time shall he pay, and he shall provide for healing.[8]” Therefore, if we exact a grotesque form of vengeance [by removing the offender’s limb], where does the assailant get the strength to pay the commanded restitution? He, himself, would be in need of amends while he heals. This cannot be the plain sense of the text because we would have long exacted payment when the judges plucked off his limb in retribution. In other words, the apparent difficulty in interpreting these verses literally in their “plain sense” is that one verse says “an eye for an eye” and in the other, it speaks of the assailant’s duty to pay for the loss of his time and costs for healing. It begs the question; why he should pay this additional payment? Thus, Ramban sees no recourse but to adhere to the traditional interpretation of “payment of an eye for the loss of an eye,” etc.

In order to use a kol v’chomer argument here, I would like to provide another verse. Kol v’chomer means “light to heavy” and this is Hillel’s first rule of interpretation [of seven]. Usually this rule is discovered when the phrase “how much more” is used; however, that’s not always the case [it will be in this case, though]. This rule attempts to prove a halachic point by showing how an argument used on a matter of law that is relatively unimportant applies to another matter of greater importance.

In order to understand better the implications of “ayin techet ayin,” we must look to the command “Ever min ha-chai.” Let me read it for you, “But flesh, with its soul, it’s blood, you shall not eat.[9]” This means that we are not to harvest meals off our live animals, slowly eating them piece by piece while they’re still alive in order to save on our refrigeration bills. This is so unbelievably cruel, Hashem made it one of the seven commands given to all mankind when He smelled the pleasing aroma billowing from Noach’s Olah – his whole-burnt offering. Therefore, the kol v’chomer we pull from the text is that if Hashem says we are not to pluck the legs of our goats and chickens, how much more are we forbidden to slice the arms, hands, and feet off our citizens as form of retribution. This is the strongest argument, and it provides a living example of Proverbs 24:29 [which I quote from the Targum], “Do not say, ‘As he did to me so I will do to him, and I shall repay him in accordance with his works.’”

This brings me back to Yeshua’s “You have heard it said” comment. When ayin tachat ayin was given from Sinai, it was intended to limit the damages caused from injury. It’s wholly unfair to exact the price of a life for a simple burn. As Dr. David Stern points out in his commentary of the Newer Testament from a Jewish perspective [and this is not a direct quote], we cannot abide in a community were the laws of retribution and punishment are not commensurate with the crime. He goes so far as to contrast the righteous interpretation and practice of ayin tachat ayin to Cain and Lamech’s extraction of multiplied vengeance at Genesis 4:24. In like manner, the extended text of the Mishnah’s Bava Kamma 8:1 [which is most likely attributed to Rabbi Mier] provides us proof that normative Judaism of Yeshua’s time was very cautious. They did not want their justice system to emulate the Lex Talionis [the Law of Retribution] of the Greek and Romans. With this ruling, the Rabbis, once again, side with the halacha followed by Yeshua and the other Pharisees of Beit Hillel.

Do you remember from where the word Torah arrives? Torah, derived from the word, hora’ah, means “teaching.” There are several schools of thought on how or even IF the Torah is applied to our lives now that we live in the era after the arrival of the promised Jewish Messiah. The most bold antinomians [those against the Law of Moshe], say all of the Laws in the Older Testament are abolished, and only the laws expressly mentioned in the Newer Testament are applicable to our lives. After all, one Christian theologian says, “There are a lot of really awful things in the Old Testament.” Other less radically antinomian leaders place the Laws of Moshe into three categories: moral, civil, and ceremonial, with only some of the moral law remaining – at least the moral law repeated in the Newer testament.

However, I would like to propose two alternate views that arrive at the same end. The Rabbis teach that G-d “burst transmitted” the Ten Commandment to us on Mt. Sinai, meaning the Aseret haDibrot were spoken all at once [or “all in one breath“]. These same rabbis said by doing that, G-d was alerting us that the whole of Torah is a single indivisible unit. Yeshua, our Rabbi and Messiah, provided another look at the Torah. In Matthew 22, we have a dialogue between Him and a member of one of the Pharisaic houses who wanted to see where Yeshua stood on topics of Law by asking, “Master, which is the greatest commandment?

In an ancient Hebrew Matthew text, Yeshua replied, “You shall love Hashem your G-d with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength. This is the first. The second is like it: You shall love your neighbor as yourself. Upon these two commandments the whole Torah hangs and the Prophets.” In this paragraph, Yeshua was providing a dualistic look at the Torah. It consists of laws on how we are to love Hashem and laws on how we are to love our neighbor.

Christian commentators are quick to say which categories of Torah law are free to be thrown away and abolished, but Yeshua’s theology makes it far harder, for which group of Laws are we to rid ourselves: the laws that govern our ability to love G-d, or the ones dictating how we love our neighbor… considering these are the two greatest commandments? When we allow our Rabbi Yeshua ish min Netzeret [the Man from Nazareth] to dictate proper hermeneutics, we get a far better picture of how Torah affects our relationship with Hashem and our neighbor. Like him, Ramban makes it plain in his commentary on the heart of Torah, that the peculiar grammar of “v’ahavta l’reicha kamocha” from Leviticus 19:18 must be translated as “Love TO your neighbor as yourself.” While this is awkward in English, it’s just as discomfited in Hebrew. Ramban, who is one of the more psychologically attuned medieval rabbis, interprets the grammatical peculiarity as “Do acts of love to your neighbor as you would have them to you.” Therefore, the commandment does not try to shoehorn our emotive responses for those whom we have little or no feelings into an egalitarian mold; instead, the command dictates that we provide acts of kindness and love to those whom we normally would not provide the time of day. By doing so, we show ourselves as disciples of Messiah [as well as Moshe] and we will allow the light of the Unseen One to shine through us and brighten lives around us.

Before I close, please, let me bless you from Talmud Tractate Chagigah 5b [it begins with a short narrative]:

Rebbi and Rav Chiya were once going on a journey. When they came to a certain town, they asked the inhabitants, “Is there a rabbinic scholar here? We would go and pay him our respects.” The inhabitants told them, “There is a scholar here; however, he is blind.” Said Rav Chiya to Rebbi, “You remain here, Master; do not degrade your position of Nasi by visiting the scholar. I will go alone and pay him my respects.” However, Rebbi bested Rav Chiya and went along with him to visit the scholar. When they were departing from the blind scholar, he said to them, “You came to pay respects to one who is seen but does not see; may you merit to pay your respects to the One who sees but is not seen.”


[1] Targum Pseudo-Jonathan adds the phrase “when you buy an Israelite as a slave because of a theft he has committed,” indicating the idea that this is a self-inflicted enslavement.

[2] As a side note, the book of Daniel references a period of time called the Seventy Weeks. This is a series of weeks of years, each ending in a Sabbatical year. However, if you are one who figured this all out, please let me give you a little nudge to go back to the drawing board. These “weeks” of Daniel do not end on any year. They must end on a Sabbatical Year. Not only that, but you must add a year after every 49 years in order to accommodate the Yovel [the Year of Jubilee]. Not accounting for the Yovel will make your accounting inaccurate by nine or ten years, depending upon your starting point.

[3] Sanhedrin 79a points out that the men must be such that they are fighting to kill each other because of the following verbiage: “but if there be a fatality” in 21:23.

[4] Bava Kamma, or the First Gate [a tractate of the Babylonian Talmud that deals with the liabilities uncured for damages] lets us know that the value of the fetus, so to speak, is granted the man not because he is the husband, but because he impregnated the woman – assuming the woman impregnated is a woman he is legally able to marry.

[5] Leviticus 24:18.

[6] Numbers 35:21

[7] Exodus 21:36 is damage caused by an animal.

[8] Exodus 21:19

[9] Genesis 8:4

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