In this week’s parsha of Emor in Leviticus 24:19-20 we read that, “A man who inflicts injury upon his fellow man just as he did, so shall be done to him, fracture for fracture, eye for eye, tooth for tooth.” Most Jewish sages rejected the literal translation of this idea of justice and instead recommended monetary damages for the harm done to his fellow man. In other words, it is not the Jewish position that we take an “eye for eye” approach even though the language suggests that we do. If we damage someone’s eye, we pay to repair it and for the lost wages caused by it – we do not lose our eye. Losing our eye would not help the individual we harmed.
Jewish justice is about how to weigh the crimes or hurt involved and compensate it accordingly. We do not consider all crimes or evil acts to have the same weight or equivalence. Immoral acts are not equivalent to other immoral acts only because they are immoral. They must be weighted by the harm being done by such immoral acts, just as the loss of an eye must be weighted with the amount of monetary loss. Some evil acts are much worse than others.
What does this mean to modern Jews? We should not allow arguments against the state of Israel, or of the Jewish people, to be manipulated in such a way that if Israel ever makes a mistake, it is as bad as its enemies. It is not. Israel is one of the most moral countries in the world when compared to other countries – by a significant margin. As modern Jews, we should learn from this parsha that Israel should not be judged by unweighted moral equivalency, but by the weight of its actions.
Based on her cumulative actions, Israel has been a moral and inspiring success story for the Middle East that other countries would be wise to learn from. Am Israel Chai!