Learn from Congregation B’nai Chaim

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Roger Cohen
Roger Cohen

The God of heaven and earth is a God of love, is full of kindness and loves mercy. Some people ask how a God of love, mercy, and compassion would allow for violence and harm to befall those who worship and follow God.

An often-cited text is Exodus 21:23-25, known as Les Talionis, said, “You are to take life for life, eye for eye, tooth for tooth, hand for hand, foot for foot, burn for burn, wound for wound, bruise for bruise.” The text of Exodus 21 parallels the Code of Hammurabi rule 230 from 1780 BCE, the Laws of Eshnunna from 2000 BCE and also it appears in the New Testament of the Bible in Matthew 5:38.

This ancient biblical mandate of “eye for an eye” rests in the middle of a biblical writing defining monetary compensation for lost property and a creation of a “City of Refuge” for those fleeing persecution. Cities of refuge still to this day provide elements of justice and mercy to those who need safety from violence.

Amazingly enough, the iterations of the lex talionis in the Bible mark the first recorded articulation of justice as a general principle of equivalent punishment. For the first time, the Jewish Bible introduces concepts of love, mercy and kindness which limit harm to people in business dealings. Regional legal codes by neighboring nations lacked justice, love and mercy to fellow neighbors. The Bible presents the standard the legal concept that the punishment should fit the crime.

The Bible knows of no monetary payment for humiliation due to injury and the basic provision for personal injury involves the lex talionis. Interestingly enough, Josephus, who is an ancient historian during the Second Temple, said that the law of Lex Talionis allows the plaintiff in a civil dispute to choose monetary compensation in place of the talion and that no Second Temple source eliminates the talion outright.

For the modern believers in God, Exodus 21:23-25 still is relevant. It guides how we are kind, treat others with respect and have mercy on those who are suffering. For those who are struggling, we need to show kindness without being taken advantage of.

Demand to be treated fairly without allowing others to do harm.

Roger Cohen is a university lecturer in Southern California specializing in ethics, religious studies and political science. To learn more, follow him at www.facebook.com/ProfessorRoger.

Congregation B’nai Chaim offers services to Jewish and interfaith families as well as singles every Friday and Saturday at 7 p.m. and 9:30 a.m., respectively and is located at 29500 Via Princesa in Murrieta. For more information, visit www.bnaichaim.com.