Parshat Mishpatim

Parshat Mishpatim

In this cycle through the Torah we will be taking a mystical journey. Our guide will be Rabbi Larry Tabick’s book, The Aura of Torah, published in 2014 by the Jewish Publication Society and the University of Nebraska. Translations of kabbalistic texts are by Rabbi Larry Tabick. Translations of the Torah and other commentaries are from Sefaria, except where otherwise noted. Translations of the Talmud are the Steinsaltz, William Davidson Talmud, on Sefaria.

The Torah shifts from primarily narrative to halachic mode in this parshah. The mystical sources, although difficult, are particularly interesting here. They ask the question, what is the relationship of sin and redemption to a world filled with God’s presence? The answer they develop is that sin has deeper consequences, spiritual impacts that may not be visible. And on the reverse, redemption is always available to us because God, in truth, is not distant from us.

Shemot 21:24

eye for eye, tooth for tooth, hand for hand, foot for foot …


Rather than the Ein Yaakov text, we’ll look at the Talmudic text that is referenced in the kabbalistic commentary.

Bava Kamma 83b:7

GEMARA: The Gemara asks: Why does the mishna take for granted the fact that one who caused injury is liable to pay compensation to the injured party? The Merciful One states in the Torah: “An eye for an eye” (Exodus 21:24). You might say that this means that the one who caused injury shall lose an actual eye rather than pay money.

Bava Kamma 83b:8

The Gemara responds: That interpretation should not enter your mind. The principle implicit in the mishna is derived from a verbal analogy in the Torah, as it is taught in a baraita: Based on the verse: “An eye for an eye, a tooth for a tooth, a hand for a hand, a foot for a foot” (Exodus 21:24), one might have thought that if one blinded the eye of another, the court blinds his eye as punishment; or if one severed the hand of another, the court severs his hand; or if one broke the leg of another, the court breaks his leg. Therefore, the verse states: “One who strikes a person,” and the verse also states: “And one who strikes an animal,” to teach that just as one who strikes an animal is liable to pay monetary compensation, so too, one who strikes a person is liable to pay monetary compensation.

Bava Kamma 84a:13

The Gemara presents another derivation: Rav Pappa said in the name of Rava that concerning one who was injured by another, who must pay for damage, the verse states: “If he rises again, and walks outside upon his staff, then he that struck him shall be absolved; only he shall pay for his loss of livelihood, and shall cause him to be thoroughly healed” (Exodus 21:19), which teaches that one who injures another must pay compensation for medical costs even in a case where he pays compensation for damage. And if it enters your mind that the phrase: “An eye for an eye” (Exodus 21:24), is referring to an actual eye, then just as it is so that the injured party needs healing, the one who caused him the injury also needs healing after the court removes his eye; why, then, does the Torah require that he pay compensation for medical costs as well?



Menachem Recanti, 13th-14th century, Italy

You already know concerning this verse that our Rabbis have taught that it is not to be understood in its plain sense, but as monetary payment ….

But perhaps you may ask: If the intention is not as it is written, why is it written like this, thereby giving space to heretics to rebel? The answer is based on what our Rabbis have taught: “There are seventy facets to the Torah.” The explanation of the commandment according to its practical sense is given in the Oral Torah, and it is this we follow, but the language of the verse deals with another subject, so that other facets, which might not have been understood apart from that language, might be understood.

For instance, in the case of the phrase “An eye for an eye,” the truth, according to the Kabbalah, is that one who injures another is liable on five counts, but it is written the way it is to allude to a very great mystery …. The human form, with its limbs and shape, in its entirety, is made on [the model] of the supernal human form. Thus, since human limbs are intended by creation to [represent] its [spiritual] limbs, that is, a throne for the supernal limbs, they contain within themselves an extra potential and continuity from the limits of Nothingness, and when you turn it and turn it [over in your mind], this is the secret meaning of [the phrase] “When you give injury to another person” — as is well known, “so shall be given to you” [Leviticus 24:20]. Consider this well.

Rabbi Tabick explains that when we help another person with our hands we are expressing lovingkindness. Our hands are a vehicle for lovingkindness. When you injure another person’s hands you are not only hurting them physically, you are also preventing from expressing lovingkindness — their open hands express their open heart. Since we are fundamentally all of God’s creation (“from Nothingness”) we have reduced the ability of Creation to express lovingkindness. We have cut off our own hands.

Shemot 22: 13-14

When a person borrows [an animal] from another and it dies or is injured, its owner not being with it, he or she must make restitution. If its owner was with it, no restitution need be made …


Bava Metzia 94a:16

MISHNA: In the case of one who borrowed a cow and borrowed the services of its owner with it, or he borrowed a cow and hired its owner with it, or he borrowed the services of the owner or hired him and afterward borrowed the cow; in all such cases, if the cow died, the borrower is exempt from liability. Although a borrower is generally liable to pay if a cow he borrowed dies, here he is exempt, as it is stated: “If its owner is with him, he does not pay” (Exodus 22:14).

[Gemara looks at the limits of this principle. It explores whether something requires constant care and who benefits from the use of the animal. In the case of the owner also being hired, the borrower is not exclusively responsible for the care of the animal. The Gemara also looks at whether the borrower is exclusively benefiting from the borrowed object, or whether that benefit is also shared with the owner.]



Simcha Bunim of Pshische, 18th-19th century, Poland

Every person receives their soul and their life as a loan from heaven, on condition that they employ them for good, and hence you are a borrower and [as such] are responsible even for [sins that are performed] under compulsion. In that case, how can you [possibly] free yourself from transgressions committed under compulsion or by accident? Only when “the Owner is present with him,” when you remember God continually, and take upon yourself the yoke of the kingdom of heaven, then “there shall be no payment.”

This is what King David says (Psalm 27:4): “One thing have I borrowed from the Eternal.” This refers to the one and unique soul, but I have only borrowed it from the Eternal. In that case, the suspicion remains that I might be liable even for sins committed under compulsion. But “only this do I seek: to live in the House of the Eternal all the days of my life” [Psalm 27:4], for my ambition is always to draw nearer to God and to be with God. This, then, is “borrowing in the presence of the owner.”


Psalm 27:4-10 (Robert Alter, translation)

One thing do I ask of the LORD,

it is this that I seek —

that I dwell in the house of the LORD

all the days of my life,

to behold the LORD’s sweetness

and to gaze on His palace.

Hear, O LORD, my voice when I call,

and grant me grace and answer me.

Of You, my heart said:

“Seek My face.”

Your face, LORD, I do seek.

Do not hide Your face from me,

do not turn Your servant away in wrath.

You are my help.

Abandon me no, nor forsake me,

O God of my rescue.