A Story is told:
The old man, his white, wispy beard laying softly on his brown tunic, slowly rose to his feet. Given the seriousness of the occasion, the man’s wrinkled forehead and strained voice surprised no one.

“We are here to judge the case of Shimon ben David,” the man began. “Two witnesses testified before this court that the accused was involved in an altercation with Reuven ben Moshe, and that Shimon broke Reuven’s right arm and blinded his left eye.”

“Contrary to the idea expressed by some members of our media,” the man continued, “who say that the possuk ‘an eye for an eye’ should be followed literally, Beis Din do not enforce draconian punishments. Instead we will apply this possuk

figuratively, and force Shimon to pay for the value of Reuvin’s lost arm and eye.”

“Case dismissed.”

As this fictional episode from a biblical court shows, and as Chazal remind us (Baba Basra 84a), the well-known possuk ‘an eye for an eye’ is not meant to be applied literally. No Beis Din has ever blinded or injured a person, except where the Torah specifically proscribes the death penalty or lashes.

Why would the Torah state ‘an eye for an eye’ if this is not meant literally? The Torah should have stated ‘money for an eye’.

The Vilna Gaon explains that the true meaning of the this possuk can indeed be seen by looking closely at the words. The Hebrew words ‘ayin tachas ayin’ can either mean ‘an eye for an eye’ or ‘an eye below an eye.’ What is ‘below an eye’?

The word eye, ayin, is composed of the letters ayin, yud, and nun. If you line up the Hebrew alphabet in order, under the ayin appears a fay. Under the yud appears a kuf, and under the nun appears a samech. By rearranging the letters fay-kuf-samech, one gets kesef, which means money.

To find the punishment for damaging someone’s eye, the Torah is telling us to look below the letters. For damaging someone’s eye, one must pay ‘what is below an eye,’ namely kesef.

When the judge announced the court’s decision, he was not acting based on a hunch as to the meaning of the possuk. He knew the possuks’s literal meaning, because he looked into it, or rather, below it.

Good Shabbos!

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