Two-Line Torah – Parsha Emor: An Eye for an Eye, A Smile for a Tooth



April 30, 2018

This week’s Parsha, Emor, contains two concepts that remain deeply influential in modern Jewish thought and tradition. The first is an explanation of the three festivals, Passover, Shavuot and Sukkot, their dates and customs. The second part of Emor is the idea of “An Eye for an Eye”, a prescription for dealing with compensation for physical harm. This text says that any physical damage made by one human against another should be reciprocated in kind, maintaining proportionality. 

Reading “An Eye for an Eye” as a text not just on punishment but, alternatively, a text on reciprocity, fairness and equity, opens a new lens for examination of our campus environments. Our nation’s campus climate today seems, in my view, to lack many of the holy and healthy values that should be present at any institution of higher learning. Taking civil discourse as an example: when a speaker comes to campus whose ideas we don’t agree with, or may even find hateful, the tendency to drown out their voice seems to overpower the desire to engage with them on an intellectual level.  

“An Eye for an Eye” is, for me, a challenge more than a prescription. It’s an offer to take the high road, to engage intellectually with those who challenge our values, and to seek a higher plane, in which we choose to respond to others with more kindness than we would expect to receive.  

Jonah Rothstein, Reform Engagement Associate and Ezra Fellow, Cornell Hillel