How do we bring someone back to wholeness? What makes it our responsibility?
In this week’s torah portion—well, really by now, last week’s, Mishpatim, we come across this verse:
When two parties quarrel and one strikes the other with stone or fist, and the victim does not die but has to take to bed, if that victim then gets up and walks outdoors upon a staff, the assailant shall go unpunished—except for paying for the idleness and the cure. (Ex. 21:18-19).
Trying to come up with regulations to enact this mitzvah, our sages wrote extensively on the topic, most famously in the 12th century by Maimonides in his Sefer HaMitzvot (Book of Commandments), and more recently in The Mitzvot: The Commandments and Their Rationale, by Abraham Chill (1974).
One of the key points of the text and its commentary is that we are to restore the person to a place of wholeness: address the injury physically, in terms of pain and suffering, monetarily (including lost wages) and finally psychospiritually. The last one has to do with protecting them from humiliation and indignity (boshet). Of note to me is that the rabbis specifically address restoring people to their station, to the life they had been accustomed to. So a wealthy person must be restored to that level, while a poor person would require less in monetary damages.
How does one restore a person we have injured to their life? The sages claim it is all about monetary payment. Act like a jury and figure out the financial value of the disability, lost wages, pain and suffering, and the indignity.
It seems to me that when we hurt someone, depriving them of their status, of their sense of themselves, it seems the task of reparation involves steps beyond monetary restoration. We must get to know them well enough to know their situation, and help them back. We have to engage and learn what would truly bring the person back to wholeness.
Taking responsibility for our actions can be hard—facing up to what we have done to harm another person is always hard…and our task requires that we be willing to do more than open our wallets, but also open our hearts. We must listen with compassion and do what we can.
May it be so.