Friday, December 13, 2013

Fact-Checking -- Exodus 21:24-25 and context

So we sort of started out talking about what tachat means: does it mean “under” or does it mean “for” and how do we know.  We’re back to Exodus 21:24-25 again.

We decided that it didn’t mean “under” because that totally didn’t mean what you thought those verses meant.  So in what sense does it mean “for”?
Just like with “fine,” the meaning is the same in more than one place in Torah.  In this case, we go to Genesis 22:13 which is in a story that Jews call the Aqedah, which means “binding for sacrifice.”  The person bound for sacrifice was Yitschaq, but instead Avraham offers an ail, an adult ram, tachat his son.  Gd didn’t tell Avraham to sacrifice a different human, He sent a substitute. 

When A and B fight and A injures B, B doesn’t injure A back, A gives up something tachat the injury he made on B as a substitute for the injury.
Which has an interesting side idea.  Obviously Gd never wanted Avraham to sacrifice Yitschaq, or to sacrifice any person, otherwise instead of a ram there would have been another person.  Gd wanted, not the actual sacrifice, but Avraham’s obedience.  The angel, Gd’s agent, stopped things before Yitschaq died. 

Anyway.  What we just did with the fines and “for” is what builds dictionaries.  The same word being used the same way for years, decades, centuries, millennia.  The FAQ for the Oxford English Dictionary says they will not accept a word into the dictionary unless it appears in communications for at least a decade with the same meaning.
But it’s also obvious that a given word can have different meanings in different contexts.  You don’t know what the word means until you know what context you’re in.  If you try to use a word in the wrong way for the current context, you create misunderstanding. 

Just like if you try to define a word without any context at all, you create a bad definition.
And if you try to understand a verse without any context at all, you misunderstand it.

And if you try to understand Jewish commandments without understanding all the Jewish commandments, you will probably misunderstand those, too.
Next lesson we’re going to look at Leviticus 24:19-22.  Go and study it.

© Patricia Jo Heil, 2013-2018 All Rights Reserved

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