Rabbi Sessler D’var Torah

The Way Jews Do Torah

In order to understand Judaism, you must read the Torah portion with the rabbinic commentaries. A famous and clear case in point appears in next week’s parashah, as the text states: “An eye for an eye, a tooth for a tooth, a hand for a hand, a foot for a foot”.

On the face of it, whoever reads this verse without the rabbinic commentaries and the Talmudic discussions will erroneously assume that Torah law seeks to promote the cutting of organs for criminals, as done in Saudi Arabia and ISIS today.

There is nothing further from the truth. Rashi and the rabbinic commentators, clearly explain that an eye for an eye means that “he [the aggressor] must give him [the victim] the value of his eye”. Namely, the aggressor must pay the victim for the loss of income incurred. In other words, with monetary compensation, and with not retributive cutting of organs.

If you really want to know and understand Torah law, you have to study it in conjunction with the rabbinic commentators and the Mishanah and Talmud texts, and the later Halachic codes. To just read the Torah text in a bibliographic vacuum, would be akin to reading the US Constitution and thinking that this reflects the entirety of American law. Naturally, that would be a foolish mistake, as the freedom of speech for example, does not permit mailed death threats to another person.

Judaism is an inter-generational dialogue across the centuries and the millennia between the sages. The only way to understand and know Torah is to learn it within that context.

Shabbat Shalom,

Rabbi Sessler

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