An awful wrong now righted. The scales of justice balanced once more. "Justice has been done," said the President. Such was the national reaction to the announcement that Osama bin Laden had been killed by U.S. forces.
It called to mind the verses read in this week's portion: "If a man maim his neighbor; as he has done, so shall it be done to him: breach for breach, eye for eye, tooth for tooth...but he who kills a man, shall be put to death." (Lev. 24:19-21)
There was symbolism in the report that the bullet that finished bin Laden pierced his left eye. But shall we call this justice?
It is quite striking that all the examples given in the verses above are in the singular, 'one eye, one tooth...he who kills one man.' It begs the question, what if the offenses are many? What if there were two eyes or two men? What if, as on September 11th, it was not one soul that perished but three thousand?
Some families of the victims of 9/11 must have wondered: 'Pity, he only had one life with which to repay this country.' Or at the very least, 'Could they not have shot him in the right eye as well?'
In Jewish tradition, the phrase 'an eye for eye, tooth for tooth' is not meant to prescribe the gouging of a retina or the disgorging of a molar, rather it is meant to describe the method by which financial compensation ought to be assessed. "The value of an eye...the value of a tooth." (Rashi, Lev. 24.20) But if money is meant--why not say so?
Here is the answer of the Maharal of Prague: 'Do not imagine that once a smiter has paid compensation, he is absolved of all responsibility and is no longer culpable, akin the case of maiming a beast, where one pays and has no further obligation. In contrast, even after compensating the victim for the injury of a hand, one has not discharged one's obligation until one has asked forgiveness from the victim and been granted pardon. For this reason, the Torah states that the punishment is that the smiter be similarly struck..." (Gur Aryeh, Lev. 23.20)
Osama died without regret. He died without our pardon. True, a great enemy of ours was struck down. Deservedly. But true justice belongs to the Lord.