I was at a מלוה מלכה (Melave Malka -- a post שבת Shabbat get-together) tonight and the host of this מלוה מלכה is the person who leads our פרחי שושנים (Pirchei Shoshanim) learning group. When he has these get-togethers, those of us in the חבורה (Habura -- group) are expected to "sing for our supper" so to speak (give a דבר תורה -- d'var tora -- words of Tora). The nice thing about that is we get to hear cool דברי תורה and we also get an opportunity to come up with something interesting ourselves.
So, tonight was just like every other מלוה מלכה I put together a דבר תורה to share with the group.
עין תחת עין -- ayin tahat ayin An eye for an eye (or, more literally, an eye under an eye) -- most people seem to interpret this as being a call for vengeance. Or they think it means if you accidentally poke someone's eye out, yours should be poked out.
But עין תחת עין hearkens back to a time when there was one set of rules for the rich and another for the poor. A rich person could get away with killing a poor person while if a poor person accidentally caused a small injury to a rich person, (s)he could get killed. No, says השם -- Hashem -- G-d. עין תחת עין -- everyone's eye is equal to everyone else's eye. Your eye is just as important as my eye; the king's eye is no more important than the slave's eye.
Yesterday (February 12th) was Abraham Lincoln's birthday. Lincoln lived in a time when there was a different set of rules in the South for blacks and for whites. The whites in the antebellum South thought their eyes were more important than the eyes of their slaves. The תורה in this week's פרשה (Parsha -- Tora portion), משפטים -- Mishpatim -- civil laws -- tells us that even slaves need to be well treated.
The mistake the plantation owners made was to think they were better than others simply because of the color of their skin or the country (or continent) of their origin.
I have this rule of thumb that keeps me from feeling I'm better than anyone else (or that other people are better than I) and it keeps me from being jealous:
If you take any two people in the world:
1) each can teach the other something and
2) each one's life is better than the other's in some way.
If we all keep these two points in mind we can remember always that everyone's eye is equal in importance to everyone else's eye.
(I want to thank the people who helped me put my thoughts together on this -- to Shelly who suggested linking to Lincoln's birthday, to Ilan who talked about עין תחת עין , to Zeev who let me use him as a sounding board and to Rabbi B. for teaching me this interpretation of עין תחת עין)