When all of humanity in the time of Noah was being “bad,” they were wiped out. We don’t know what they were doing wrong, or if they were given any idea of what was right. Now, we don’t ever have to worry about such things again. Not only because G-d made a promise to Noah to never wipe out humanity again, but because now we have rules to live by. We know what is right and wrong, so we can know to live our lives righteously and never fear a wrathful G-d.
Last week, we received the 10 Commandments. Ten rules to start with, basic laws to live by. The 10 commandments start with acknowledging G-d, who led us out of Egypt, and being commanded to have no other G-ds, but then the rest of the ten are pretty great basic laws for all people: Don’t kill, don’t steal, don’t lie, etc. This week, the list of rules, or ordinances continues. Rashi comments that the parasha opens with “v,” meaning “and,” to show the continuation from the previous parasha. “Here are the ten commandments, AND here are the ordinances.” Basic laws to start from, AND more detailed explanations of rules and regulations, including proper punishments for transgressions.
Although not all the rules in this week’s Torah portion are still relatable to us, such as the first ten, regarding proper slave ownership, they still give us an idea of good behavior, and most importantly, accountability. This week’s Torah portion isn’t just, “Do this, don’t do this.” It’s IF YOU DO THIS, you have to pay. And it’s not just about our own actions, but also about responsibility for our property, and about respecting other people’s property. We are told that if two people fight, and one severely injures the other, he should pay for the medical costs. We are also told that if one farmer’s livestock eats another farmer’s crops, or kills his livestock, the first farmer should pay for the damages. Even though animals can be unreliable and it’s not necessarily the farmer’s fault, it’s still his responsibility. If an animal kills a person, the animal should be put down. If for some reason it isn’t, and it kills a second time, the owner is liable for the death, and will have to face the punishment as though he himself did the killing. Again, the person him or herself did not do the wrong, but is responsible for his animals, for keeping it in its pen, especially if it has been known to injure or kill in the past.
It’s hard to agree with the punishments laid out, and even the earliest rabbis found ways around fulfilling these ordinances, and punished lawbreakers without resorting to physically harming or killing them. However, if we look beyond the specificities that might make us uncomfortable with this parasha, there is still a great premise: you are responsible for your actions, and your property. Be just, be fair, be kind, take care. May we all remember to do these things, so that we may create a just world, where all are held equally responsible for creating peace. Shabbat Shalom!