Our parashah mentions the methodology used to apply justice for several varieties of damages: “An eye for an eye, a tooth for a tooth, a hand for a hand, a foot for a foot” (21:24). The Gemara and many commentators explain that this isn’t meant to be a law of retaliation. The court system doesn’t physically remove the assailant’s limbs but instead compensates the victim for their loss. Why does the Torah describe this law in a way that can be easily misunderstood?
The Rambam1 proposes that material damage differs from physical damage in that damage to an item can easily be repaid monetarily whereas damage to one’s person isn’t considered repaid until the assailant pleads for forgiveness. Asking for forgiveness addresses the self-esteem of the victim who has been injured and acknowledges the unintended pain that the victim has endured. Rabbi Yochanan Zweig explains that when someone is injured, the emotional injury must be addressed as well. Being aware of and tending to each other’s needs includes not merely physical needs but requires a more holistic focus on their emotional needs as well.