In this Parsha we learn about many different commandments. Most of the laws are not explained in detail and in fact the plain understanding of the verses seems to contradict the actual laws as they are described in the Talmud. How are we to understand what the written Torah is telling us in the light of the teachings of our sages?




It is well known that the Written Torah is given in the manner that virtually nothing can be understood without the Oral Tradition, which was later recorded in the Talmud and other works of our sages. There is actually a very deep and mystical relationship between the Written Torah and the Oral Torah[1]. The two are not just connected, but the Oral Law is actually a kind of projection and a reflection of the Written Torah. The Written Torah is compared to the sky, while the Oral Torah is like the earth[2]. Just as the rain and sunrays come from the sky and give the land the power to make its’ produce, so too the Written Torah gives the needed energy to let the Oral Torah bring out its’ fruits. Just as the sky is unchanging, while the land is worked on to make the plants grow, so too the Written Torah is copied letter by letter, while the Oral Law includes further and further discussions, elaborations and rabbinical ordinances. The Written Torah influenced all of mankind, while the Oral Torah is linked specifically to the Jewish people like, the main land – the Land of Israel is given to us.


In truth everything in the Oral Law is hinted to in the Written Torah but the hints are not at all obvious and may at first sight seem to contradict the plain meaning of the verses. The GR”A in Aderes Eliyahu on this week’s Parsha (21:6) writes that in fact most of the laws of this Parsha as well as in the rest of the Torah are not according to the simple meaning of the verses. There are various reasons for this, and this system is deeply rooted in the spiritual connection between the Written and the Oral Torahs[3]. However there is at least one simple reason for this, brought in Talmud Yerushalmi (Chagiga 7b), based on a verse in Hoshea (8:12). If the Written Torah contained the entire Oral Torah in an unambiguous form, then any nation or religion could claim that they are “the true Jews”. In practice the main Christian denominations did try to claim that they are the new Israel, but since they did not have access to the Oral Torah, they had to get rid of the Torah’s laws, whose keeping is impossible without the knowledge of the Talmud.


As we mentioned most of the commandments can be misunderstood without the knowledge of the Talmud, yet careful reading of the verses and their analysis shows that the understanding we received in our Oral Tradition is indeed hinted in the Written Torah. In our commentary we will show two famous examples of this. One is the verse (21:24) “An eye for and eye” and the other is the verse (23:19) “Don’t cook a kid in its’ mother’s milk”. As we all know the two verses are not taken literally and we will discuss where this is hinted.


The Torah tells us about the prohibition of “cooking” a baby goat in the milk of its’ mother. We all know that the Jewish Tradition states that any domestic kosher animal can not be cooked in the milk of another kosher domestic animal. In this case we are dealing with the Torah’s way of phrasing the laws using just a common example[4]. We similarly find in this Parsha (21:33) the law regarding a person who dug a hole and “a bull or a donkey” fell inside. Obviously this law applies not only to the bull or donkey but to any animal. Similarly, the prohibition of plowing on a bull and a donkey together (Devarim 22:10) applies to other pairs of animals as well. In the case of cooking a kid in its’ mother milk, there are good reasons for this particular example to be chosen. The goats often give birth to twins[5]. It is therefore quite common to slaughter one of children and cook it in the milk of the mother goat. Moreover, since the meat of a newborn kid is very soft, it comes out very tasty when cooked in milk. The meat of older animal is hard and needs a lot of cooking while milk gets cooked a lot faster, so the two are almost never combined.


The prohibition of “cooking a kid in its’ mother’s milk” is stated here after the mitzvah of coming of bringing the first fruits to the Temple. Indeed, when brining the first fruits, it was common to also bring the firstborn animals. Since young animals could not survive without milk, their mothers had to be taken along. Thus, if not for the prohibition, it would be a common occurrence that after the kid is slaughtered, it would be cooked in the milk of its’ mother. In the book of Devarim (14:21) the same prohibition is mentioned again together with the other dietary laws[6].


There is an additional explanation of this verse in the Torah. We often find that the Torah takes the most extreme example and other cases are learned from it. For instance the Torah says (Vayikra 19:14): “Don’t curse the deaf”. Meaning it’s forbidden to curse even someone who is deaf and does not hear the cursing. Similarly, the prohibition of cooking milk and meat together applies even if the milk is from the same source as the meat. We might have thought that it’s only forbidden to cook milk and meat if they are from different animals, just as many other mixtures are forbidden by the Torah: clothing of linen and wool, crossbreeding animals, planting different seeds together etc (Vayikra 19:19). So too we might have said that mixing the milk of one animal and the meat of another is forbidden. However when we cook the kid in its’ mother’s milk, since both the milk and the meat come from the same source, we could have thought that this is permitted. The Torah therefore says: “Don’t cook a kid [even] in its’ mother’s milk”.


Another famous verse in this Parsha is the requirement for the one who inflicts damage on someone else has to pay measure for measure. An eye for an eye, a tooth for a tooth, a hand for a hand, and a foot for a foot. Now, logically speaking the Torah can not possibly imply that if a person puts out an eye of his fellow, his eye should be put out. This would simply be impractical[7]. How can we possibly put out an eye exactly the same way he did to his victim? How can we make sure his pain is similar, not greater or smaller? How can we guarantee that the damage is appropriate? Maybe the victim was a blind man or someone who can barely see, while the attacker has good vision. Sometimes the attacker is blind and his loss of an eye will not be a fair compensation.


Indeed both Talmuds[8] and all the Jewish commentators explain that this verse is not to be taken literally. Rather it implies a payment of the exact damage done. In addition to paying for the damage, the assaulter has to pay the medical bills and also for the pain, for the embarrassment and for the time the victim could not work. This law is hinted in the Written Torah in two places. One is the nineteenth verse in this chapter. There the Torah clearly says that for any physical damage the assaulter only has to pay. The other place is in Bemidbar 35:31, where the Torah tells us that a murderer can not pay in order to escape the death penalty. The emphasis of the verse is that this law applies to the murderer only; any other assaulter pays to compensate the damage[9].


The obvious remaining question is why then does the Torah say: “An eye for an eye”? One of the answers to this is that indeed if the assaulter does not repent of his sin and gets forgiveness from his victim, Hashem will ultimately bring him in another gilgul and this time he will lose his eye[10]. No crime ever goes unpunished, and everything is accounted for in the infinitely deep system of Divine Hanhaga. As we know it is really for our benefit that the various punishments in our many lives rectify the misdeeds and purify us. And when all damages will be repaired and we will deserve the final redemption!



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[1] See Rekanti on the beginning of Parshas Yisro.


[2] See the GR”A on Shir Hashirim, 1:3.


[3] In the mirror, we see the reflection, which turns the left to the right and vice versa. Similarly, in a stamp, everything is backwards, but once the stamp is used the true image appears. Similarly, the Written Torah is like a stamp and reading the verses without the Oral Tradition will lead to a backwards understanding.

[4] See Ibn Ezra, Shemos 23:19.


[5] See Rashbam, Shemos 23:19.


[6] See Ramban, Shemos 34:26.


[7] See Ibn Ezra (21:24), Talmud Yerushalmi Bava Kama 34b.


[8] Talmud Bavli, Bava Kama 84b; ), Talmud Yerushalmi Bava Kama 34b.


[9] There is another interesting hint in the verse (21:24) itself, it is literally written: “AIN TACHAS AIN” -  eye UNDER eye. The letters that are under the three letters that spell the word “AIN” spell the word “KESEF” – money (GR”A in Kol Eliyahu, 67).


[10] Moreover, at the time of assault the spiritual “body” of the attacker does get a corresponding damage through measure for measure (Rekanti 21:24, see also Mitzvas Hamelech, 49).