This week’s Torah portion is Mishpatim – Judgments. It discusses cases that come before a court.
Last week, in Parasha Yitro, we learned how God gave us the Ten Commandments. We also saw that Moses, acting on the advice of his father-in-law, Yitro, established courts headed by distinguished members of the community. Since we’ve been given the basic laws and courts to interpret them, Parsha Mishpatim teaches us about cases that happen between people. Not only are the actual cases more interesting than a TV show about lawyers, the parasha has no commercials.
The most famous of these cases regards damaging someone’s eye. It hurts just to think about it. The Torah says the damages to be paid by a person who hurts someone else’s eye is “an eye for an eye.” (Exodus, 21:24). This law does not mean that the person who caused the hurt has to lose his own eye, and Jewish courts never inflicted such a punishment. It means he has to pay the person he hurt an amount that will make up for the damaged eye. How did the Sages fix that value? Rashi explains that the damage was set by how much less the hurt person would be worth as a worker with only one eye.
If you think about it, you live this principle every day. It’s about taking responsibility for the things you do. If you tripped at a campout and fell on someone’s tent, you’d help them put their tent back up. If your dog dug up a neighbor’s yard, you’d help clean it up.
Being responsible does more than give us a rule for setting things right when they’ve gone wrong. It puts us in the habit of avoiding things that hurt others in the first place. If you know you have to repair the damage you’ve made in the world, you’ll be careful not to damage the world as you go through it.
This is sort of “Leave No Trace” living. Imagine a world where all you left were people who were happy that you had passed their way.