Blind Eyes and a Fallen Ass
Mishpatim "Judgments"
Ex. 21:1-24:18

"The nation of Israel was formed through the shared experiences of the Exodus and the Revelation [at Sinai], and the unity of purpose and destiny was brought into focus at the foot of the mountain... And yet, in  Mishpatim , immediately following the Revelation , a shift occurs.  In a clear concession to the frailty of human character, the laws in  Parashat  Mishpatim  deal with slavery, verbal abuse of parents, altercation and interpersonal discord-even to the point of hatred." - Rabbi Ari Kahn

Hatred?  So soon after they saw the sounds and said as one people, "We will do and we will hear!"?  What happened?

Well, what happened is what usually happens after the glow of glory fades to everyday life.  People disagree.  They see things differently.  They pick sides. It's the story of our lives in Mishpatim, Judgments.  Really, doesn't "Judgments" sum it up?  Human relationships are an ongoing process of judgments, giving grace and favor to one another liberally, sparingly, or not at all.  In a deft application of smichut, or textual placement, Mishpatim places principles within principles providing insights to human character.

Before we reveal this pattern, though, take a glance through the portion.  It is full of seemingly unrelated rules and regulations.  Take a second glance, and you'll see why so many of these simple statements required the clarification of appointed judges.  For example, 

"An eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth, a hand for a hand, a foot for a foot." (Ex 21:24)

At no time in Jewish or Israelite history has that punishment been applied as most English-readers interpret.  The maiming of another person [without resulting death] has always required monetary or equivalent property restitution, never gouging out someone's eye or pulling the corresponding tooth.  On its face, problems arise.  For instance, what if the victim loses only 25% of his sight?  Should the judge or court officer try to estimate how much damage to do to the offender's eye to equal the 25%?  What if he miscalculates, and the punishment damage is 50%?  Does the judge then have to have his own eye gouged to 50% vision?

The text requires finding contexts with similar use of the words.  The literal Hebrew text would read "eye under ( tachat) eye," and "tooth under ( tachat ) tooth."   Tachat means "underneath" or "in place of," "in lieu of."  It is found in other places, such as:

"And Adam was once again intimate with his wife and she had a son.  And he called his name Shet, 'for God has provided me with other offspring
tachat Hevel [in place of Hevel] - for he was killed by Kayin." (Ge 4:25)

"Avraham lifted his eyes and saw, and behold, a ram was entangled in the brush by the horns, and Avraham went and took the ram, and offered it as an offering  tachat beno - in place of his son." (Ge 22:13)

Based on examples such as the verses above where tachat means "in place of," Jewish law reads "[the value of] an eye in place of an eye."  The judgment is read in the context of the verses surrounding it, such as:

"If men have a quarrel and one strikes the other with a stone or with his  fist, and he does not die but  remains in bed,  if he gets up and walks around outside on his staff, then he who struck him shall go unpunished; he shall only pay for his  loss of time, and  shall take care of him until he is completely healed. (Ex 21:18-19)

Both mishpatim concern physical injuries.  One clarifies the other.  Only in the case of murder is an equal exchange demanded; otherwise, monetary damages are levied.  And although the verse says "unpunished," it is only relative to the death sentence.  He is still "punished" by monetary restitution for the victim's medical care and loss of time for work.  So why did the mishpat concerning eyes, teeth, hands, and feet not read as plainly?

Ultimately, the victim accepts money in lieu of what should rightfully be his: his own eye, restored.  "Why does the Torah not simply write 'pay the value of an eye'?  The perpetrator should see that he deserves precise and parallel punishment..." (Kaplan, p. 159)  The perpetrator is ransoming his own eye, which should be required.  The Torah wants the perpetrator to understand the severity of his deserved punishment, yet understand the mercy of only paying damages in place of his own eye.

Another place of clarification is when one sees his neighbor's ox or ass wandering or fallen under a load:

If thou meet thine enemy's ox or his ass going astray, thou shalt surely bring it back to him again.   If thou see the ass of him that hateth thee lying under his burden, and wouldest forbear to help him, thou shalt surely help with him. (Ex 23:4-5)

Understand that "hate" in Scripture encompasses a large range of emotions from simply preferring one person over another to murderous hatred.  An enemy can be someone with whom one has a dispute or a full adversary. Scripture doesn't mandate in this case, and it can even be interpreted "the ass of him whom you hate" in some translations.

A possibility arises.  What if I'm walking down the road, and I see my friend's donkey fallen on one side, and my not-so-friendly neighbor's donkey fallen on the other side?  Which donkey should be helped first, for both animals are suffering?

The rabbis say that one must first help his enemy, then his friend.  If the enemy is someone with whom the relationship is only mildly dysfunctional, then preferring and helping him will prevent the escalation of ill-will:

"If a friend requires unloading, and an enemy loading,  a person's first obligation is toward his enemy ." ( Bavli  Bava  Metzia  32b)

The Torah assumes a person will stop and help a friend.  It does not assume he'll stop and help someone with whom he has an offense.  It does not assume that he will try to de-escalate a dispute with someone who dislikes him.  Therefore, the "friend" mishpat is left unwritten and the "enemy" mishpat is written.  The individual might take advantage of the "unwritten" mishpat and say, "Well, two donkeys are fallen; I'll help my friend first, and then if my enemy is still there, I'll help him, too.  Torah doesn't say which one I have to help first." The rabbis clarify the heart of the Torah, which says to actively try to de-escalate offenses.

The rabbis determine the heart of the mishpat from context.  Let's look at the bread on the donkey sandwich, called a chiasm:

nor shall you be partial to a poor man in his dispute.
If you meet your enemy's ox or his donkey wandering away, you shall surely return it to him. 
If you see the donkey of one who hates you lying helpless under its load, you shall refrain from leaving it to him, you shall surely release it with him.
You shall not pervert the justice due to your needy brother in his dispute

The axis and meat of the chiasm sandwich is the enemy's donkey.  In one case, it's wandering, and in another case, it's fallen.  We turn to the previous and subsequent verses to understand the enemy's donkey.  In Verse 3, Israelites are cautioned not to favor a poor man simply because he is poor.  In Verse 6, Israelites are cautioned not to favor the rich over the poor in a dispute.  This points out how human beings tend to be "bribed" (check the full context of Ch. 22-23).  

We favor those with whom we identify.  If we've been bullied and experienced tough times, we identify with the underdog.  If we have sufficient wealth for our needs and worked hard for it, we favor those who also want to protect assets or wealth.  Poverty and wealth are our "bribes" for which we will turn a blind eye or deaf ear to indiscretions.
Mishpatim  warns us that we will have leanings, and they have  more to do with  US  than the facts of the case .  Sometimes we lean the opposite way just to prove we don't lean, but in either case, leaning is sin!

Lean one way, and you identify with the underdog because of your own poverty of wealth, self-esteem, confidence, popularity, etc.  

Lean the other way, and you identify with the rich because of your own wealth of money, popularity, confidence, competence, or intelligence.

Life experiences become your "bribe."  Don't lean!  Hear the facts impartially. It's quite possible that both the donkey-helper and his "enemy" have offenses precisely because of the leanings mentioned in context: false reports, false testimony, getting caught up with a crowd to condemn without hearing all the facts, jumping to conclusions without the evidence, acting on prejudices, etc.  

It is sometimes the case that the enemy is only an enemy because of who we are, not who he is.  It is important to hear both sides of an issue before judging.   In the court of judgment, both rich and poor witnesses are equal.  Neither is permitted to accept the bribe of self-protection in testifying to or judging another's case.

If you find yourself posting, thinking, or speaking aloud about a matter in which you haven't heard all the  facts because  "I know just how he/she feels," or because of some past offense, then the leaning bribe has begun.  Blindness sets in.  In this case, the lost eye is self-inflicted, and who will pay?

It's Not that Simple!

The writers of the Gospel wrote almost 2,000 years ago, when everyone knew the difference among 1st Century religious sects such as the Pharisees and Sadducees.   Have you always assumed that a Pharisee was a greedy hypocrite? PHARISEE: FRIEND OR FOE? tests this assumption and draws out why the Pharisees were a vital part of Yeshua's ministry in the First Century. 

This booklet is packed with information and offers a glimpse into the hidden facts about the Pharisees that enrich the accounts of Yeshua's resurrection. We pray that it will transform how you read both the New Testament Scriptures and the TANAKH (Old Testament). 

This booklet will be a companion to the next BEKY Book by this author, 50,000 DEGREES AND CLOUDY: A BETTER RESURRECTION, explaining what happens when we die. The Pharisees handed down a belief in resurrection, and they give us the Scriptures that explain the Lower Garden, the Rivers of the Garden, the Palace of Messiah, Sheol, the first and second resurrection, judgment and reward, angels, and many other topics.  It will cover Scriptures all the way from Genesis to Revelation, and is expected in 2019.

Click here to look inside the book or purchase:  Pharisee: Friend or Foe?

LaMalah Children's Centre

Here is the latest note from the Children's Centre in Limuru, Kenya:  

Shalom in Yeshua's Name:

    We hope and pray you are all doing well. Today we had very senior goverment officials in charge of children visit LaMalah. They had called indicating that would come on Saturday and we told them it's Sabbath. They came today unexpected late evening and we give thanks, praises and esteem to Abba.  They have us a clean bill of health and had very good words for us. But there was a catch;- If the police or they themselves come across a destitute child, we can expect them to drop them there be it day or night. We are most happy.



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