The Punishment Fit The Crime: Emor 5775 by Cantor Lipp

Tue, 05/12/2015 - 12:14pm -- lcanfield

My object all sublime 

I shall achieve in time—

To let the punishment fit the crime,

The punishment fit the crime;


The advertising quack who wearies 

With tales of countless cures, 

His teeth, I’ve enacted, 

Shall all be extracted 

By terrified amateurs.

            The Mikado by Gilbert and Sullivan

Our Torah portion is largely a guide for priestly behavior but there is a moment when the Israelites are addressed as a whole. For a non-Kohen to eat of the priestly portions inadvertently would result in a need to perform restitution plus a 20% fine.

It reminds me of the Torah's concentrated preoccupation with the idea of measure for measure, an early moral version of Newton's 3rd law of motion: For every action there is an equal and opposite re-action. For every crime, there should be an equal and opposite punishment. The end of our portion, incidentally, includes the series of statements that illustrate Lex Talionis: An Eye for an Eye, etc.

In general, the Torah teaches that if you steal an item, you need to pay back double. Ergo, you should feel as though that exact amount was stolen from you. The exceptions are sheep and oxen which, if stolen, would require a restitution of 4 or 5 times to provide a deterrent against taking away someone's livelihood and to make you feel as if you were deprived of yours.

Similar to the inadvertent ingesting of the Priestly portion, if you steal something and return it of your own accord, you must pay restitution plus a 20% fine. Since you made Teshuva, all that's needed is a recognition of the sin and a reminder that even repentance and simple restitution don't completely clear your moral slate.

Since we don't have priestly portions to accidentally ingest nor do we, hopefully, steal things only to return them, I looked for a meaningful modern analog.

The idea of Chen in Hebrew, Grace, implies that those of us with reasonably good financial, physical, emotional and familial conditions perhaps have more than we deserve by the simple fact of fate. It helps us recognize how many are less fortunate than we.

So I challenge us all to live Shabbat in such a way that we feel so energized with chen that we will give 120% to whatever it is our mission might be, professional or social, in the week to come. They always say  that Jews are like everyone else only more so: so let’s give not 110% but 120%!

To that end, I offer the following prayer: May your Shabbat be ridiculously blessed.

Shabbat Shalom.

David Lipp