April 14, 2024 |

7th Grade/Gesher is Amazing!

Posted on March 5, 2017

Parashat Mishpatim, with its 53 ordinances, challenged us to consider the meaning of many laws.  Lyzer the Miser and Shrewd Todie, a short story by Isaac Balshevis Singer, provided wonderful material for exploring some of the laws related to borrowing and lost property. The expression, “An eye for an eye, a tooth for a tooth” led to a discussion of how such a law could be enforced and the short story An Eye for An Eye indicated one answer.
A carpenter fell off a ladder on which he was standing to fix the roof of a house and was hurled into the street.  He fell upon a passerby who was instantly killed by the fall of the crushing weight of the carpenter’s body.  The carpenter himself was seriously hurt.
The son of the dead man brought the carpenter before the judge.  It was not money the son wanted.  The carpenter was a poor workman who barely made a living.  There was nothing to be gained by forcing him to pay heavy damages.  After all, the carpenter could never make good on such heavy payments.  “No, judge,” said the son of the slain man, “I do not ask for money damages.  What I want is the kind of compensation promised by the Bible—measure for measure, an eye for an eye, a tooth for a tooth.  This man took my father’s life, and so it is just that he be killed in turn.”
The judge, who was a wise man, tried his best to influence the son of the dead man not to be so cruel to the unfortunate carpenter.  The law would be guilty of an unpardonable sin, explained the judge, if it condemned the carpenter to the harsh and cruel law of a punishment equal to the offense—an eye for an eye.
“Would it not be better,” said the judge, “if you forgave this man to whom this double accident happened?  He caused the death of another man, but only by accident; and he himself has been severely injured.”
But the accusing son stood his ground.  He insisted that judgment be administered in accordance with what is stated in the Bible—an eye for an eye!
After long and deep thought, the judge gave his decision:  “Well, if you want me to stick to the words of the Bible—which no Jewish court ever did, for they were always moved by pity and forgiveness, not by harsh and cruel application of the laws—then this is my judgment:  the sinner must be punished in the same way that he sinned.”
He added:  “Therefore, the son of the dead man must climb to the top of the ladder where the carpenter was standing at the time of the accident.  The son must fall from the roof and land on the carpenter, who must stand below him under the ladder in the exact spot where the dead man stood.  Only in this way can we carry out the actual words of the law—measure for measure, equal punishment carried out in equal measure, an eye for an eye.”
The verdict was never carried out.  The absurdity of an “eye for an eye” as a method of judging was clearly evident to all.
We explored PURIM through a number of modalities:  A Venn diagram activity comparing and contrasting Purim and Passover; a text study in which students identified the sources of texts: The Book of Exodus, chapter 1; Megillat Ester; Hitler.  The texts were shockingly similar demonstrating disturbing patterns in Jewish history.  And a “You Be the Judge” activity which asked, can the 10th individual for a minyan be compelled to attend to permit the other 9 to hear the public reading of the Megillah?  This led to a Pirkei Avot (Ethics of the Sages) text study including “Do not separate yourself from the community” (2: 4).  Chapter 2 verses 4 and 5 included several other provocative ideas: 
  • “Do not judge your friend until you’ve stood in his/her place,”
  • “Do not say when I have time, I will study Torah.  Perhaps you will have no     time,”
  • “In a place where there are no people, strive to be a person.” 
Students worked in pairs and chose one of these texts about which to create a short video to teach that text to our class.

Best wishes for a joyful Purim.  Remember to come in costume both Saturday night, March 11th and Sunday morning, March 12th.