God’s Use of Metaphor

Rabbi Moshe Ben-Chaim

Parshas Mishpatim describes numerous laws without resorting to metaphor. We are taught of slaves, damages and other laws in a literal manner. Why then, when treating of the intruder, does God state (Exod. 22:2), “If the sun shines upon you…?”  Rashi interprets this “sunshine” as follows: “This is only a kind of metaphor; if it is clear the intruder is at peace with you just as the sun brings peace… you are liable for shedding the intruder’s blood.”  Torah teaches (according to Rashi) that despite the intruder’s monetary crime, he does not forfeit his right to life if he would not kill you, had you opposed his robbery. And if you killed him, you would have no defense against your murdering him based on grounds of trespass and/or robbery. From here we see 3 lessons:

1) Torah demands a level of intelligence. It demands we understand and apply metaphor. God’s lesson of employing metaphor is that God desires that we use intelligence. By not resorting to literal description, but employing metaphor, God’s lesson is that the modes of deduction, induction and parallels are indications that intelligence are essential to understanding Torah. That is, God purposefully employs metaphor to teach the very lesson that Torah requires intelligence. But why here? In what manner is the intruder a more fitting case to be described using metaphor?

2) We are absolutely clear about what a pit is, what a fire is, and what damages are. These are clearly measured by absolute physical parameters. But can one be absolutely certain of the intent of another (the intruder)? How does one measure such an amorphous thing, this thing called intent? Perhaps as this is a “grey” area, since there is no unit that can accurately measure “intent”, a metaphoric description of the degree required is necessary. Thus, God tells us that it must be as clear as sun shine, 100%. So if you know with clarity that the intruder is not intent on killing you, you cannot kill him. How do you know this? It’s a personal call, as seen from the Torah’s lack of a concrete measure. Each relationship is different, and only the victim through his own intuition can gauge if this specific intruder would kill him. Perhaps this is why the verse says, “If the sun shines upon him…”  It’s up to “him” to make this determination. 

3) To illustrate the degree of certainty God demands to refrain from lethal action, God equates this degree of certainty to daylight. This teaches that if there is any doubt, and you feel the intruder might kill you, then your lethal defense is justified. Thus, error in this case sides with the victim. Any sense of risk allows the victim to use lethal action.