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Dvar for Mishpatim (Exodus 21:1-24:18)

Parshat Mishpatim lists many of the laws that govern Jewish living and also contains hidden treasures. One example can be found when the Torah describes the punishment for killing another person. Passuk (verse) 12 (21:12) says that when a person kills another he shall be put to death. The next Passuk offers an exception to that rule: When someone accidentally kills, they flee to a safe haven city which was established for those circumstances (21:13). The next Passuk (21:14) seems to go back to explain the first scenario of killing with intent. Why does the Torah restate the same law, seemingly out of order, adding the instruction to “take him” to die for his actions.

One possible explanation could be that the 3 Pessukim (verses) discuss 3 different scenarios. The first scenario is when someone kills another with intent, the second scenario is when intent is not there, and the third is where intent is there but no action is taken. What do you do with someone that tries to hurt another but doesn’t? You take them out to punish them, but taking them out to punishment is their actual and full punishment, possibly invoking fear, or helping them visualize the punishment to dissuade future actions.

This set of laws highlights intent as an integral aspect of not only our behavior, but in evaluating others’ actions. And when intent is unclear, don’t judge.