PARASHAH: Emor (Speak)
ADDRESS: Vayikra (Leviticus) 21:1-24:23

AUTHOR: Torah Teacher Ariel ben-Lyman HaNaviy


(Note: all quotations are taken from the Complete Jewish Bible, translation by David H. Stern, Jewish New Testament Publications, Inc., unless otherwise noted)

Let’s begin with the opening blessing for the Torah:

"Baruch atah YHVH, Eloheynu, Melech ha-‘Olam, 

asher bachar banu m’kol ha-amim,

v’natan lanu eht Torah-to.

Baruch atah YHVH, noteyn ha-Torah.


(Blessed are you, O’ LORD, our God, King of the Universe,

you have selected us from among all the peoples,

and have given us your Torah.

Blessed are you, LORD, giver of the Torah.


Welcome to Parashat Emor. Last week we focused on holiness. This week the first two chapters of Emor focus on the cohanim (priests) and their separation unto holiness. As priests, they needed to take extra special care to demonstrate the holiness of HaShem in the sight of the people. As we shall find out in a future parashah, Moshe’s failure to demonstrate this holiness—as a leader among them, warrants his inability to enter into the Land of Promise. From this example alone, we should be able to catch a glimpse of the seriousness of representing God on a priestly/leadership level.

Chapters 21 and 22 contain various positive mitzvot as well as prohibition commands. These commandments would not be any different from some of the others that we have encountered in the book of Leviticus except that they are specifically addressed to the priestly line. Therefore, they become specific to them and should be understood in that sense. We do damage to the text when we remove the context of certain commands, which identify specific recipients. The Torah is indeed for all to act upon, but the delegation of authority helps us to ascertain which commands apply to whom. Consequently, when we arbitrarily apply a command to someone for whom it was not intended, we "destroy" the clear meaning of the text and we misunderstand its application. Our haftarah portion of Yechezk’el 44:15-31 also echoes this same sentiment. The student should refer specifically to 44:23, 28.

The thrust of the priestly instructions of chapters 21 and 22 is summed up in the final verses of chapter 22:

"You are to keep my mitzvot and obey them; I am ADONAI. You are not to profane my holy name; on the contrary, I am to be regarded as holy among the people of Isra'el; I am ADONAI, who makes you holy, who brought you out of the land of Egypt to be your God; I am ADONAI."

These words are extremely powerful! This is the calling of the priests of the LORD. This is the challenge of the leaders of the community. In one sweeping statement, HaShem defines their divine purpose and calling, while simultaneously giving us an unmistakable definition of his identity and authoritative election process: the Children of Isra'el can proudly proclaim "WE are HOLY because HE makes US HOLY!" This statement extends to us today because we have become righteous heirs through the adoption process of our Great High Priest, Yeshua HaMashiach!

Moreover, since this statement of HaShem’s contains three references to his name (similar to the "Shema"), it has been recognized as one of those mysterious passages which gives us a glimpse of the concept of the Divine Unity of the Holy One. The Shema states that "YHVH, Eloheynu, YHVH is echad!" Here we see three instances where HaShem is revealed among his children, hinting at the Unified nature of his Three Persons; similarly, our present verse states: "I am YHVH… your Elohim… I am YHVH." Although verses 31-33 summarizes the primary admonition of the priests themselves, the Talmud comments on these verses in this way (recognizing that indeed the whole Nation was chosen as a "Kingdom of Priests" it states): "A Jew’s primary privilege and responsibility is to sanctify God’s Name through his behavior, so that people say of him, "Fortunate are the parents and teachers who raised such a person." Conversely, there is no greater degradation for a Jew than to act in a way that will make people say the opposite (Yoma 86a).

What an awesome responsibility the priests carried among the people; what an equally important responsibility that the Jewish Nation carries among the various peoples of the world.

To be sure, we believers carry this responsibility as well.

May the Holy One grant us mercy as we daily sanctify the name of the Anointed One, Yeshua ben-Elohim, among the nations!

The most easily recognized feature of our parashah this week is the listing of the Mikra’ey Kodesh, that is, the Holy Convocations. Since we carry studies on each individual Festival at my web sites, I will provide highlights from each one for us here in Parashat Emor.

As we shall see, the feasts were meant to serve as daily, monthly, and yearly reminders, of our identity and purpose, in the historical plans that HaShem has for all of mankind. The Torah teaches us that they are the "rehearsals of messianic redemption". Properly understood, they tell the story of the birth and life, atoning work, death, resurrection, promise of power, assurance of dedication, promise of return, and promise of eternal abiding, of the Messiah Yeshua, in relation to all genuine followers. Surely it is in the mind of the Holy One, for his children to have an intimate knowledge of these aspects of his Son’s ministry! Yet, for nearly two thousand years, our appreciation of these feasts has remained marginal at best and non-existent at worst.

The reader needs to familiarize himself with our main body of text here in Leviticus chapter 23. Below are brief themes and biblical and spiritual concepts of the seven mikra’ey kodesh, plus Shabbat, which the Torah has for us:


Shabbat (Sabbath) – resting in Messiah; resting from work

When the Sabbath is first mentioned in the Ten Words (Ten Commandments) it is for the sake of remembering the Creative work that HaShem performed during those first six days. However, in Exodus chapter 31 we find out that HaShem wants 'Am Yisra'el (the People of Isra'el) to recognize that the Sabbath is also a "sign". In Hebrew, this word is "ot" (say "oat"). Of what is the Sabbath a sign? Of the formerly expressed truth—that HaShem is indeed the Creator of the Universe, and that the entire cosmos sprang forth from the creative power of his spoken word!

One other point: whether or not seventh day Sabbath-keeping is for all believers (Jew and Gentile alike) remains to be universally accepted. However, the Torah makes it clear that when the Messiah returns to set up his Millennial Kingdom from Yerushalayim here on earth, that all of his followers will be enjoined to observe the seventh-day Sabbath, as it is eternally taught in his Torah (read Yesha'yahu 66:22-24).

The word sin, according to the Jewish mindset, means to "miss the intended mark". If the intention is to abstain from all forms of labor on the Sabbath Day, then working is "missing the mark". Yeshua, however, clued us into the intentions behind some of the Sabbath Day's activities. His definition is not the legalistic point of view that is held by many of his day, as well as many of our day. Rather, his definition of Sabbath-keeping addressed "intent of the heart", as well as procedure. Today, whatever we do to keep God's Torah—and it is biblically acceptable to lead a Torah-observant lifestyle even as a believer—we should be convinced that there is no longer any condemnation for those in Messiah, if we fail in certain areas (Romans 8:1-2). This includes Sabbath-keeping. Also it must be emphatically stated that we as believers do not attempt to follow the Torah to BECOME saved—we attempt to follow it because WE ARE saved.

Here is Exodus 20:8-11 and a short review given for summarization:

"Remember the day, Shabbat, to set it apart for God. You have six days to labor and do all your work, but the seventh day is a Shabbat for ADONAI your God. On it, you are not to do any kind of work—not you, your son or your daughter, not your male or female slave, not your livestock, and not the foreigner staying with you inside the gates to your property. For in six days, ADONAI made heaven and earth, the sea and everything in them; but on the seventh day he rested. This is why ADONAI blessed the day, Shabbat, and separated it for himself."

Properly understood, it is impossible to over-emphasize this particular mitzvah. The seventh day rest shares many different functions within the Torah. As such, it carries with it many fundamental truths that are beyond the scope my commentary here.

Here, however, HaShem emphasizes the role of himself as the "Creator of the world", using the Shabbat as the "signature" of his creative genius. Because HaShem ceased his labor on the seventh day, his creation was to also cease from their labors. Spiritually, this speaks to our position as sons and daughters in Messiah. Before we came to be sons and daughters, we "labored" to become acceptable in the sight of ADONAI. But once we placed our trusting faithfulness in Messiah Yeshua’s atonement, we "ceased" to labor! We now "rest" in the finished work that he freely accomplished on our behalf.


Pesach (Passover) – redemption, salvation, deliverance, freedom

Shabbat notwithstanding, Pesach is the beginning of the biblical feasts of Leviticus chapter 23. The actual feast known as Pesach spans three separate, yet inextricably-linked feasts: Pesach, observed on the fourteenth day of the Jewish month of Nissan, HaMatzah (Unleavened Bread), observed on the fifteenth day of Nissan, and Bikkurim (Firstfruits), observed the day after the Sabbath of HaMatzah.

Yeshua died on Pesach because the Torah decreed in eternity past that it would be so. To be sure one of his more famous titles is "the Lamb slain from the foundations of the world". Also, as can be seen in the Scriptures, the Pesach Lamb represents an offering for all that will apply the blood to the "entry way" of the heart; in contrast the Yom Kippur offerings of the two goats and the bull represent national atonement for the community of physical Isra'el, but by implication excludes the surrounding nations.

A more detailed look reveals quite simply that the type and shadow of the sacrificial lamb is intimately tied into the Exodus deliverance (which signifies a type of deliverance from sin). Yeshua had to become the sacrificial Lamb in order to satisfy his Father's righteous requirement for a global sin offering. The Yom Kippur sacrifices by comparison teach us that Yeshua atones for the sins of communal Isra'el. Yes, I understand that Yeshua's atonement, both as portrayed in Pesach and Yom Kippur is available for all mankind, but in the course of history the natural preceded the spiritual and thus HaShem ordained for us to first see and understand Yeshua as the Passover offering before he allowed us to see him as the Yom Kippur offering. To be sure, the first Passover from Egypt involved a mixed multitude (representative of the Nation of Isra'el plus the Nations of the World), whereas on Yom Kippur only the Nation of Isra'el is in immediate view.


Chag HaMatzah (Unleavened Bread) – sanctification

The festival known as HaMatzah follows immediately after Pesach. The fourteenth of the Jewish month Nisan is Pesach; the fifteenth is HaMatzah. As the Torah so clearly instructed the offspring of Avraham, all bread eaten during this observance was to be matzah.

"Get rid of the old hametz [leaven], so that you can be a new batch of dough, because in reality you are unleavened bread. For our Pesach lamb, the Messiah, has been sacrificed. So let us celebrate the Seder not with leftover hametz, the hametz of wickedness and evil, but with the matzah of purity and truth." (1 Corinthians 5:7-8)

Here we learn that hametz (leaven) was interpreted by Rabbi Sha’ul as a type of sin. The leaven of sin, like its culinary counterpart, has the capacity to work its way into the complete dough of our lives, expanding and rising, until the whole "loaf" is permeated with sin. This is why, with the guidance of the Ruach within us, we need to remove all of the leaven from ourselves. Will this result in a sinless life? No. Yet, our efforts will surely be rewarded in the form of a renewed and strengthened walk with our LORD. In other words, as long as we have these earthen vessels, our desire should be to flee from sin, until we finally reach that blessed time when our LORD Yeshua will return in Power and Glory to cleanse us completely!


Bikkurim (Counting the Omer) – sanctification, deliverance

The event know as "Bikkurim" (say "Bee-koo-reem"), stems from the Hebrew word "bakkar" which describes the action which first breaks the matrix of the female womb. In other words, this root word always refers to the "firstling". This event is also known by the title "Lag b’Omer", that is "Counting the Omer", based on its furthering instructions given in verse 15. The Hebrew word for "sheaf" is "omer". This counting leads to the well-known event called "Shavu’ot", or Pentecost, as it is more widely recognized. A biblical principal worth remembering, which carries significant truth down to this very day is that the "first" always belongs to HaShem.

In perfect fulfillment of biblical prophecy Yeshua was raised from death to life on that morning following the Sabbath! Surely he is the "firstfruits from the dead"! He is the first person to be raised unto a resurrection of incorruptible flesh! Although our flesh still houses sin, his flesh was sinless before his death on the execution stake; his resurrection demonstrates for us genuine believers what a resurrected body will be made like—raised to life everlasting! Why then do we continue to confuse this wonderful truth with our man-made traditions? Isn't it time we start demonstrating his holiness by the very days that we gather together on?

The "first" always belongs to HaShem.


Shavu’ot (Pentecost) – the giving of the Torah, the giving of the Ruach HaKodesh, firstfruits, ecclesiology

The Hebrew word for week is "shavuah", its plural is "shavu’ot". Both of these words come from the root word for "seven". This is where the festival gets its name. Shavu'ot is the annual counting of seven weeks of days, hence forty-nine days. This yearly count is listed in the Torah as a mitzvah, a command from HaShem himself. The name "Pentecost", from the Greek word "pentekoste", means "fifty days", as the Torah instructed Am Yisra’el (the people of Isra’el) to add the final day after the seventh week.

Historically, the rabbis figure the giving of the Torah at Mount Sinai to have occurred on this day, that is, in the third month after Am Yisra’el came out of Egypt. Actually, the exact date of this familiar encounter, recorded for us in the book of Exodus, is not explicitly stated; the chronological evidence is convincing, however.

We know that it was the Torah, the very same teachings that we have today, that was inscribed upon the stone tablets that day. We also know that this same Torah is to be inscribed upon our hearts as we serve Yeshua, to the glory of HaShem the Father. How do we get the Torah into our hearts? The Spirit of the Holy One makes real the fact that Yeshua the Messiah, in obedience to the Father, emptied himself on our behalf, and became as sin, that we might, consequently, become the righteousness of the Father! In other words, because the Ruach HaKodesh makes the effectual, sacrificial death of Messiah, a living reality in our hearts, we are now free to walk in newness of life! This act of faith on our part brings about the inscription of the Torah upon our hearts! To be sure, the Torah says that HaShem himself does this (Ezekiel 36:26, 27; Jeremiah 31:33)! We are free to pursue the Torah of Truth without condemnation (Romans 8:1)! This new identity in Messiah is the righteous relationship that our Heavenly Abba intended for us all along. The details surrounding that eventful Shavu'ot in Yerushalayim now serve to remind us of this present reality.


Rosh HaShanah/Yom T’ruah (New Year/Feast of Trumpets) – eschatology

With the coming of the fall part of the year, comes the final series of festivals, as detailed in our theme passage (verses1, 2) of Leviticus 23. In rabbinical thinking, these last festivals are known as the "season of t’shuvah", the season of our repentance. The biblical name for this festival is called Yom T’ruah, meaning "Day of the Awakening (trumpet) Blast". Your calendar probably calls this day "Rosh HaShanah". This name literally means "Head of the Year", from the Hebrew words "rosh", meaning "head" or "beginning", and "shanah" meaning "year". It gained this title when the rabbis created the civil calendar to be used by all Jews living in the Land of Isra’el. It eventually became the standard for all Jews everywhere. A religious calendar was already in effect when this change took place. Rather than replace the religious one, the rabbis simple adjusted it, making the beginning of the months Tishrei, instead of Nissan.

Yom T’ruah is a call to return to holiness! Our God is in the business of calling men back to himself. In order to get man to realize his fallen spiritual state he sometimes needs reminders. The Torah says of itself, in Psalm 19:11, that by it’s words "your servant is warned". Warned of what? Of the impending doom that is to befall all of the evil of mankind and the deeds that he does. Within this warning is a message of mercy; the time to repent is now! Turn to HaShem with your whole heart, cry out for his mercy, beg for his forgiveness in pardoning your sin, and receive his atonement!


Yom Kippur (Day of Atonement) – atonement, forgiveness, blood sacrifices

The word kippur means atonement or expiation. Related to this word is the Hebrew word kapporet, which is what we call the cover to the Ark of the Covenant. It is a fitting connection, since the lid of the Ark (Mercy Seat) is where HaShem spoke to Moshe face to face. This was also where the blood of the atoning animal was offered once a year during Yom Kippur (Leviticus 16:14-16). It is in this way, that the blood of the sacrifice "covered" the sin of the person bringing it. This type of atonement only covers the sin; it doesn’t allow it to be completely erased. In a very true way, this type of atonement was temporary. You might ask, "If HaShem knew the temporal aspect of this sacrificial system, why did he institute it in the first place? Why not just send the Messiah from the beginning, and skip all of those elaborate "middle steps"? This is a good and valid question, not entirely unlike those that I hear from most non-Jewish believers and a few Jewish folks as well.

With the arrival of Yom Kippur, comes another one of the central aspects of our relationship with our Holy God: atonement. Why is atonement so important to HaShem? Apparently, ever since the incident in the Garden of Eden, mankind has carried within himself the sinful propensity of that first act of disobedience, and consequently, the sinful results as well. Our sin nature is in direct conflict with the holy nature of HaShem. As a result, we cannot fathom approaching him without first making some sort of restitution, which would satisfy HaShem’s righteous requirement. His nature demands that there be atonement for sin, for indeed, sin cannot exist in his sight.

Q: Is there atonement without the sacrifices? And if there is atonement, is such atonement offered for both intentional and unintentional sins?

A: Firstly it must be recognized that HaShem’s forgiveness, as enacted in the korbanot, are reserved for those whose hearts are pure, that is, for those with the intention of turning from their sin and making restitution for sinning against God. I maintain that our focus can only be upon the Spotless Lamb offered for atonement, Yeshua our Yom Kippur! The Renewed Covenant will bear this out later as well.

The ancient Rabbis agreed that sacrifice without true repentance invalidates the sacrifice itself! The Talmud in Tractate Yoma clearly teaches this:

MISHNA: Sin-offerings and trespass-offerings atone. Death and the Day of Atonement, if one is penitent, atone. Penitence atones for slight breaches of positive or negative commandments; for grave sins, it effects a suspension, till the Day of Atonement completes the atonement. To him who says: "I will sin, repent, sin again, and repent again," is not given the opportunity to repent. For him who thinks, "I will sin; the Day of Atonement will atone for my sins," the Day of Atonement does not atone. A sin towards God, the Day of Atonement atones for; but a sin towards his fellowman is not atoned for by the Day of Atonement so long as the wronged fellowman is not righted. R. Eliezer b. Azariah lectured: It is written [Lev. xvi. 30]: "From all your sins before the Lord shall ye be clean." (This is our tradition.) The sin towards God, the Day of Atonement atones for; but sins toward man, the Day of Atonement cannot atone for till the neighbor has been appeased.

Said R. Aqiba: Happy are ye, O Israel. Before whom do ye cleanse yourselves, and who cleanses you? Your Father who is in Heaven. For it is written [Ezek. xxxvi. 25]: "Then will I sprinkle clean water upon you, and ye shall be clean "; and it is also written: "The Migveh (hope, or legal bath) of Israel is the Lord." As a legal diving-bath purifies the unclean, so does the Holy One, blessed be He, cleanse Israel.

This concept of intentional and unintentional sin and of penitence and rebellion is touched upon in the Torah at Sefer B’midbar (the Book of Numbers):

Version: KJV

Num 15:26 - Num 15:36

26. And it shall be forgiven all the congregation of the children of Israel, and the stranger that sojourneth among them; seeing all the people [were] in ignorance. 27. And if any soul sin through ignorance, then he shall bring a she goat of the first year for a sin offering. 28. And the priest shall make an atonement for the soul that sinneth ignorantly, when he sinneth by ignorance before the Lord, to make an atonement for him; and it shall be forgiven him. 29. Ye shall have one law for him that sinneth through ignorance, [both for] him that is born among the children of Israel, and for the stranger that sojourneth among them. 30. But the soul that doeth [ought] presumptuously, [whether he be] born in the land, or a stranger, the same reproacheth the Lord; and that soul shall be cut off from among his people. 31. Because he hath despised the word of the Lord, and hath broken his commandment, that soul shall utterly be cut off; his iniquity [shall be] upon him.

The very same concept is taught in the B’rit Chadashah (the Renewed Covenant, i.e., the New Testament) in the book of Hebrews!

Version: RSV

Heb 10:26-31

26. For if we sin deliberately after receiving the knowledge of the truth, there no longer remains a sacrifice for sins, 27. but a fearful prospect of judgment, and a fury of fire which will consume the adversaries. 28. A man who has violated the law of Moses dies without mercy at the testimony of two or three witnesses. 29. How much worse punishment do you think will be deserved by the man who has spurned the Son of God, and profaned the blood of the covenant by which he was sanctified, and outraged the Spirit of grace? 30. For we know him who said, "Vengeance is mine, I will repay." And again, "The Lord will judge his people." 31. It is a fearful thing to fall into the hands of the living God.

Thus we see that atonement for sins, both intentional and unintentional, must be accompanied by a penitent heart.

Yeshua has now become the means by which all men with penitent hearts must satisfy the righteous atoning requirement of the Holy One! This type of atonement is not just a covering! Our sins are not merely covered for the year, only to be remembered the next year at Yom Kippur. This type of atonement is a permanent one! What does the Torah say?

"No longer will any of them teach his fellow community member or his brother, ‘Know ADONAI’; for all will know me, from the least of them to the greatest; because I will forgive their wickedness and remember their sins no more." (Jeremiah 31:34)


Succoth (Feast of Tabernacles/Ingathering) – worship, praise, redemption, eschatology, thanksgiving, celebrating the harvest of righteousness in our lives

"Just what exactly is a "sukkot" (say "soo-coat") anyway?" Well, this is the plural form of the Hebrew word translated as "booth", "tabernacle", "tent", or "hut". Its singular is "sukkah", and, based on the command to dwell in temporary booths for seven days (verses 42, 43), we can see why the Feast is called by this name.

Here in Leviticus chapter 23, HaShem instructs the people to build sukkot in memory of the temporary dwelling places that they had while wandering in the desert. But the most important temporary dwelling place during that period was still the Tabernacle. To be sure, according to past history, once the people built a Tabernacle for HaShem, he indeed did come to dwell among his people" as he said he would, and they did behold his Sh’khinah (manifest Glory of God)! But Yochanan gave us an even deeper understanding of this "Tabernacle":

The Word became a human being and lived with us, and we saw his Sh’khinah…. (1:14)

This immediately brings to memory the indwelling, manifested-Glory present in the earthly Tabernacle. But the Tabernacle had long since been replaced by a more permanent Temple structure. Moreover, the Sh’khinah of HaShem is reported to have been displayed fully in the person of Yeshua (Colossians 2:9)!

The Feast of Sukkot is a holy convocation that speaks of corporate involvement. Is there still some future "dwelling with men" that HaShem is waiting for? What does our prophetic Scripture (from Jeremiah) for this point say? "I will be their God, and they will be my people" (31:33). So God is consistent in his intentions. Where is his sukkah today? Romans 11:25, 26 begins to hint of a future time when all Isra’el shall know the salvation of their God, once and for all ("Baruch HaShem! May that day come soon!"). Tied up within that future redemption, is the concept that HaShem started with way back in the days of the TaNaKH: "I [will] dwell among them" (Exodus 25:8, KJV, emphasis mine). From the prophetic book of Revelation, we learn that there will be a day, when the final plan of HaShem will be fully realized among men. Chapter twenty-one, verse 3,

"And I heard a loud voice from the throne saying, "Now the dwelling of God is with men, and he will live with them. They will be his people, and God himself will be with them"" (NIV, emphasis mine).

This overview of the Feasts hopefully provided some of the biblical, historical framework to which we can apply the messianic fulfillment of each feast. Ultimately, it is my intent to invite each one to consider taking HaShem up on his offer, of divine permission, to participate each year in his feasts. "Shomer mitzvot" (Torah observance) is a wonderful way to "walk out" the reality of the newness of life, found only in union with Yeshua HaMashiach! A Godly desire to be submissive to the Torah, as Jewish and non-Jewish believers, is evidence of the Holy Spirit’s activity of "putting the Torah of HaShem within you, and writing it on your heart" (Jeremiah 31:33; Hebrews 8:10, paraphrase mine).

The last verse of chapter 23 reads appropriately:

"Vay’dabeyr Moshe eht-moadey YHVH el-B’ney Yisra’el."

(Thus Moshe announced to the people of Isra'el the designated times of ADONAI.)

Before I close out the parashah, I want to briefly share some Talmudic quotes that revolve around an issue found in chapter 24 verses 17-22:

Version: NAS

Lev 24:17-22

17. 'And if a man takes the life of any human being, he shall surely be put to death. 18. 'And the one who takes the life of an animal shall make it good, life for life. 19. 'And if a man injures his neighbor, just as he has done, so it shall be done to him: 20. fracture for fracture, eye for eye, tooth for tooth; just as he has injured a man, so it shall be inflicted on him. 21. 'Thus the one who kills an animal shall make it good, but the one who kills a man shall be put to death. 22. 'There shall be one standard for you; it shall be for the stranger as well as the native, for I am the LORD your God.'"

That the sages of antiquity had differing opinions as to the meanings behind these verses is made evident from our Talmudic extract, taken from Tractate Bava Kama:

MISHNA I.: One who wounds his neighbor is liable to pay the following five things, viz.: damage, pain, healing, loss of time, and disgrace. "Damage."--If he blinds one's eye, cuts off his hand, or breaks his leg, the injured person is considered as if he were a slave sold in the market, and he is appraised at his former and his present value. "Pain."--If he burns him with a spit or with a nail, if even only on the nail (of his hand or foot), where it produces no wound, it is appraised how much a man his equal would take to suffer such pain. "Healing."--If he caused him bodily injury, he must heal him; if pus collected by reason of the wound, he must cause him to be healed; if, however, not by reason of the wound, he is free. If the wound heals up and breaks out again, even several times, he must cause it to be healed; if, however, it once heals up thoroughly, he is no more obliged to heal it. "Loss of time."--The injured person is considered as if be were a watchman of a pumpkin field, as he was already paid the value of his hand or foot. The disgrace is appraised with consideration of the station and rank of the one who causes as well as of the one who suffers it.

GEMARA: Why so? Perhaps it is to be taken literally, for the Scripture reads [Ex. xxi. 24]: "Eye for eye"? This cannot enter the mind, as we have learned in the following Boraitha: Lest one say, if he blinds one's eye or cuts off one's hand, that the same should be done unto him, therefore it is written [Lev. xxiv. 21]: "And he that killeth a beast shall make restitution for it; and he that killeth a man," etc. As in case of a beast only the value is paid, so also in case of a man. And lest one say, Does not the Scripture read [Numb. xxxv. 31]: "Moreover, ye shall take no redemption for the person of a murderer, who is guilty of death"? you may say that from this, very verse it may be inferred that no redemption money is to be taken for a murderer, but redemption money is to be taken for one who destroys such members of the body as cannot grow on again.

We have learned in a Boraitha: R. Simeon b. Johi said: "Eye for eye" means its value. You say, its value. Perhaps it means literally? Nay, for what should be done when a blind man blinds another, etc.--how should be fulfilled the commandment "eye for eye"? And lest one say that such a case is an exception, therefore the Scripture reads [Lev. xxiv. 22]: "One manner of judicial law shall ye have"; from which is to be inferred that it means a law which can be applied alike to all human cases.

In the school of R. Ishmael it was taught: The Scripture reads [ibid., ibid. 20]: "So should it be given unto him"; and by "given" is meant a thing which is given from hand to hand. If so, how are the preceding words in the same verse to be explained? "In the manner he should give a bodily defect," etc. (hence the word "give" is used also for such a thing as is not given from hand to hand)? It may be explained thus: The school of R. Ishmael deduce it from a superfluous verse, thus: Let us see. It reads already in the preceding verse [ibid. 19]: "And if a man cause a bodily defect in his neighbor; as he hath done, so shall it be done unto him." Why, then, the repetition in verse 20? To indicate that it means money. But still the above-stated objection as to the use of the word "give" in the beginning of the verse remains? Because at the end of the verse the Scripture desired to use a term from which it should be deduced that it means money. It used the same expression also here.

The school of R. Hyya deduce it from the following: The Scripture reads [Deut. xix. 21]: "Hand for hand" --that means something that can be passed from hand to hand, i.e., money.

Well-respected Torah scholar Nechama Leibowitz adds her comments on how the Chazal (ancient sages) wrestled with the intended meaning behind this Levitical passage, eventually favoring a monetary interpretation:

Few are the verses from the Bible which have been so frequently and widely misunderstood by Jew and non-Jew as verse 24:20, from which our title is taken. This misconception has transformed our text into a symbol, the embodiment of vengeance at its cruelest level. One who wishes to express his opposition to forgiveness, concession, and compensation, insisting instead on his pound of flesh, on retaliation of the most brutal and painful kind, resorts to the phrase: "Eye for eye," a formula which conjures up a vision of hacked limbs and gouged eyes. Even he who is familiar with the traditional Rabbinical interpretation of our text, "eye for eye," i.e., monetary compensation, does not rule out the possibility of this being merely an apologetical explanation, a later toning down of ancient barbarity, humanization of the severity of the Torah by subsequent generations.

But this is not the case. On the contrary, our Sages and commentators adduce many and varied proofs indicating that the plain sense of the text can be no other than monetary compensation.

By contrast, the Karaite attacked the Rabbinic interpretation on two counts, first from the wording of the text. The Gaon demonstrated that the two phrases do not necessarily bear out the Karaite interpretation. (Benno Jacob notes that the case of Adoni-Bezek – As I have done, so God has requited me (Judges 1:7) is no proof to the contrary, for there he uses a different verb in each clause of the phrase, and is therefore not comparable to our verse). The proof from Samson is the clearest indication that the phraseology when… implies an equivalent or analogous, but not identical punishment. Again, from Bava Kama:

"Eye for eye": Rav Saadya said we cannot take this text literally. For if a man deprived his fellow of a third of his normal eyesight by his blow, how can the retaliatory blow be so calculated as to have the same results, neither more nor less, nor blinding him completely? Such an exact reproduction of the effects is even more difficult in the case of a wound or bruise which, if in a dangerous spot, might result in death. The very idea cannot be tolerated. Ben Zuta (a Karaite) retorted: But surely it is explicitly written: (Lev. 24:20) As he has maimed a man so shall it be rendered to him. The Gaon answered: The word on, implying so shall punishment be imposed upon him. Ben Zuta retorted: As he did, so shall be done to him! The Gaon replied: We have in the case of Samson (Judges 15:11): As they did to me, so I did to them, and Samson did not take their wives and give them to others (as they had done to him), but only punished them. Ben Zuta retorted: What if the attacker was a poor man, what would be his punishment? The Gaon replied: What if a blind man blinded one with normal eyesight, what should be done to him? The poor man can become rich and pay; only the blind man can never pay for what he did!

The Karaite then forsook the argument from the wording of the text and attacked the Rabbinical interpretation from the point of view of feasibility of its implementation. Here Ben Zuta evidently did not realize that by doing so he was advancing the objection that could be raised against all judicial fines. Just as he asked: What if the attacker is a poor man, so he could have asked: What if any defendant on whom a fine was imposed was a poor man? He thus played into R. Saadya’s hands by showing him that the same flaw in execution that could be pointed out in the monetary interpretation could be objected in the literal one, bringing in R. Shimon b. Yohai’s argument.



First a quote from my own commentary to Parashat Mishpatim:

[Exodus] Chapter 21 – Verses 22-27 speak about restitution in the event of accidental injury. We are familiar with the saying, "An eye for an eye; a tooth for a tooth." We remember that our LORD Yeshua made a comment about this in the B'rit Chadashah book of Mattityahu 5:38-42. We often feel that his comments reflect the right, enacted by this particular Torah passage, to go out and take "revenge" on the individual who took our "eye" or "tooth". In Yeshua's estimation (we suppose), revenge is not the correct course of action, and instead, we should seek to forgive our brother. Actually, these verses of our current parashah establish justice in such a situation. For instance, if indeed your brother accidentally (or maliciously) takes your "eye" or "tooth" (these are symbols of your precious commodities), then the ruling says that you are entitled to an equal share of recompense—but not more! This ruling sets the order so that greed and unforgiveness don’t become rife in the community. But Yeshua, realizing that the person wronged is owed an "eye" or "tooth" for his compensation, challenges his audience to seek forgiveness instead of compensation. He does NOT contradict the Torah here, rather he establishes it true intent.

If the Rabbis are right that money is the compensation, then it can be observed that one who pays compensation for the loss of sight does not make good the damage as one who damages his fellow’s goods. The money only serves to make good the monetary damage involved in the loss of the eye or hand, but the actual loss of the eye can never be made good. Injury to another human being is a crime that cannot be made good by ransom or monetary payment.

This is the reason why the Torah did not use the expression, "He shall pay for his eye...".  This emerges even more clearly from the verse of our parashah that we cited at the beginning of this section. After the punishment for mortally injuring a man or beast is stated (v. 17-18) comes the punishment of the one who causes bodily injury to which the punishment for the one who injures a beast is not juxtaposed. For in the case of man the difference between mortal injury (murder) and maiming is qualitative (death—money), whereas in the case of beast there is merely a quantitative difference between killing it and injuring it (greater or lesser compensation according to the injury).

Our parashah concludes by contrasting both:

"He who kills an animal is to make restitution, but he who kills another person is to be put to death." (Lev. 24:12)

The verse appears superfluous, a repetition of the previous, unless we bear in mind that it wishes to impress upon us the difference between man’s responsibility for his fellow’s goods and his responsibility for his fellow’s life as a human being created in the image of God.

The closing blessing is as follows:

"Baruch atah YHVH, Eloheynu, Melech ha-‘Olam,

asher natan lanu Toraht-emet,

v’chay-yeh o’lam nata-b’tochenu.

Baruch atah YHVH, noteyn ha-Torah.


(Blessed are you O’ LORD, our God, King of the Universe,

you have given us your Torah of truth,

and have planted everlasting life within our midst.

Blessed are you, LORD, giver of the Torah.


"Shabbat Shalom!"

Torah Teacher Ariel ben-Lyman HaNaviy