For the week of January 29, 2011 / 24 Shevat 5771
Torah: Shemot / Exodus 21:1 - 24:18
Haftarah: Jeremiah 34:8-22; 33:25, 26


When men quarrel and one strikes the other with a stone or with his fist and the man does not die but takes to his bed, then if the man rises again and walks outdoors with his staff, he who struck him shall be clear; only he shall pay for the loss of his time, and shall have him thoroughly healed. (Shemot / Exodus 21:18, 19; ESV)

The wisdom of God regarding liability in physical conflicts is clear: wrongdoers are not to be held responsible for more than the harm caused, but are responsible for both the lost wages of the injured party and for the cost of healing. Following God's directive on such matters contributes to a healthy thriving community.

Some people would rather address the issue of liability by proclaiming that fighting is wrong and ignore it. Others insist that the New Covenant approach contradicts the Torah and places all burden of crime on the victim. I am aware of the Messiah's teaching on "turn the other cheek" and what Paul wrote against lawsuits:

To have lawsuits at all with one another is already a defeat for you. Why not rather suffer wrong? Why not rather be defrauded? But you yourselves wrong and defraud - even your own brothers! (1 Corinthians 6:7, 8; ESV)

What the Messiah and Paul are teaching have to do with personal conflicts, not the establishment of godly laws governing a society. Sadly wrongs do happen to people and we will not always see justice in our personal conflicts. The Messiah, through his life, teaching, death, and resurrection, shows us how to handle being wronged. Paul is simply applying Yeshua's teaching and example to the life of a most dysfunctional congregation in the ancient Greek town of Corinth.

The need to learn to suffer wrong is not to be twisted into a societal dictum that gives wrongdoers free reign to abuse others. Even if the Messiah's "turn the other cheek" means that we should never speak up for ourselves when wronged (which I doubt is the intent), this is not a directive for people in authority to impose such an idea upon their people, whether those authorities are government officials, congregational leaders, or parents. When one of our children punches his little brother or sister, Yeshua does not expect us to get the two of them together and practice "turn the other cheek". While this might be a time to learn forgiveness (which is a different issue), it is also an opportunity for the wrongdoer to learn the principle of liability. In the same way congregational leaders and government officials would do well to follow God's ways to protect the innocent by ensuring that wrongdoers bear the responsibility of their actions.

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