Parashas 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: “When a person kills another, he shall be put to death” (21:12). The next pasuk 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 pasuk seems to go back to explain the first scenario of killing with intent, adding that if a man plots against another, “You shall take him out to die” (21:14). Why does the Torah restate the same law, seemingly out of order, adding the instruction to “take him out” to die for his actions?
One possible explanation could be that the three pesukim discuss three different scenarios. The first scenario is when someone kills another with intent, the second scenario without intent, and the third is where there is intent (by plotting), but no action is taken. What do you do with someone that wants to hurt another but doesn’t? You take them out as if to punish them but don’t ultimately exact the punishment, possibly invoking fear or helping them visualize the punishment to dissuade future actions.
This set of laws highlights intent not only as an integral aspect of our behavior but in evaluating others’ actions. And when intent is unclear, we should not judge.