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Understanding Matt 5:21-25 (Raca, Fool, Murder; and Parasha Mishpatim)

Matthew 5:22
But I tell you that anyone who is angry with his brother will be subject to judgment. Again, anyone who says to his brother, “Raca,” is answerable to the Sanhedrin. But anyone who says, ‘You fool!’ will be in danger of the fire of hell.

I find it interesting that this parallels a section in Parasha Mishpatim:

Exodus 21:
15. And one who strikes his father or his mother shall surely be put to death.
16. And whoever kidnaps a man, and he is found in his possession, shall surely be put to death.
17. And one who curses his father or his mother shall surely be put to death.

According to Rashi:

[G-d] interrupts the subject [of discussing sins against parents] and writes, “and whoever kidnaps a man” between [the verses] “one who strikes his father or his mother” and “one who curses his father or his mother.” It appears to me that that is [the underlying reason for] the controversy [found in Sanh. 85], that one Tannaic master believes that we are comparing striking [someone] to cursing [i.e., just as one is liable only if one curses a person who keeps the commandments as befits a Jew (see Exod. 22:27), so too is one liable only for striking a person who keeps the commandments, but not for striking a Cuthite], and the other master believes that we do not compare cursing to striking [and thus one would be liable for striking a Cuthite even though he does not keep the commandments]. -[Rashi, referring to Sanh. 85b]

Since Yeshua says “brother,” I would assume he falls on the side of the first Tannaitic master, who says that cursing another who keeps the commandments (this one is a brother) is equal to striking a person who keeps the commandments – and thus to curse a “brother” is a liable offense answerable to the Sanhedrin, since it is equal to striking them. Yeshua takes this application further by explaining different kinds of curses:

We see that calling a “brother” “Raca,” ie “empty-headed,” is a lesser charge of competence, and is still a liability that the Sanhedrin would be responsible for determining, but to call a “brother” a “Fool,” ie “hopeless,” (see Proverbs for a definition of a fool) is to curse someone to the point that they are unable to take on a status of one who obeys the commandments of G-d in the eyes of one calling them such – ie they declare that such a person is not a believer and is hopelessly unable to become one – and thus by implication and application is reasoned as not a “brother,” and not capable of being a “brother”, in the eyes of one calling them a “fool.”

Yeshua equates the severity of this to murder, which preceded his argument:

Matt 5:21″You have heard that it was said to the people long ago, ‘Do not murder, and anyone who murders will be subject to judgment.’ “

Which interestingly enough proceeds after Ex 21:17:

Ex 21:18 And if men quarrel, and one strikes the other with a stone or with a fist,

which explains each progressive result of severity of striking someone, ultimately leading in death:

Ex 21:23. But if there is a fatality, you shall give a life for a life,

and then explains the lesser “liable” punishments:

24. an eye for an eye, a tooth for a tooth, a hand for a hand, a foot for a foot,
25. a burn for a burn, a wound for a wound, a bruise for a bruise.

This indicates then that Yeshua understands the Torah’s ruling on cursing one’s brother is a liability equal to the curse being made. To call someone “raca” is a lesser offense, probably equatable to “a bruise for a bruise.” Thus to call a fellow believer a “fool” in the eyes of Torah, and of the Messiah, is to essentially be equated with taking someone’s (eternal) life, which will then be also demanded of yours.

Anticipating this, Yeshua then teaches:

Matt 5:23-24
23 “Therefore, if you are offering your gift at the altar and there remember that your brother has something against you,
24 leave your gift there in front of the altar. First go and be reconciled to your brother; then come and offer your gift.

First it’s interesting to note that he says “remember that your brother,” when calling someone “fool” by my studies seems to indicate that you no longer consider someone capable of being a “brother” – to seek reconciliation requires that one re-consider their judgment of hopeless of the individual. It is not we who judge someone’s hopelessness when it comes to the gospel, it is HaShem’s.

Seeing as how Parasha (Torah portion) “Mishpatim” (Judgements) is immediately followed by the description of the Tabernacle in Parasha Terumah, I think highlights what Yeshua meant when he mentions immediately after his warning, that before “offering your gift at the altar” that one should “first go and be reconciled to your brother, and then come” back to the altar.

Interestingly enough, in case we missed it, and refuse to heed Yeshua’s words on this matter, Ex 21:14, which preceeds the cursing and striking of a mother and father, says, “But if a man plots deliberately against his friend to slay him with cunning, [even] from My altar you shall take him to die.”

If we think of the “altar” as a reference to meeting G-d, who is our Judge, then the rest of Yeshua’s teaching on the matter finally makes more sense too:

Matt 5:25-26
25 “Settle matters quickly with your adversary who is taking you to court. Do it while you are still with him on the way, or he may hand you over to the judge, and the judge may hand you over to the officer, and you may be thrown into prison.
26 I tell you the truth, you will not get out until you have paid the last penny.

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One Response to “Understanding Matt 5:21-25 (Raca, Fool, Murder; and Parasha Mishpatim)”

  • Avraham says:

    Matthew 5:22
    But I tell you that anyone who is angry with his brother will be subject to judgment. Again, anyone who says to his brother, “Raca,” is answerable to the Sanhedrin. But anyone who says, ‘You fool!’ will be in danger of the fire of hell.

    Interpritation:

    The Torah lays a simple guide line to anger and that one who hates with out reason is liable to be judged by G-d for acting as such. For such a person who hates is likened unto one who kills, and therefore he in return is killed by the hands of heaven. As for “Raca” this is best answered as the Mishnah Sanhedrin states, “one who brings forth an evil name” i.e. this is one who sends forth rummors about others and regards them as if they have, or speaks about them in a manner which treats them as if they are violators of Torah, which cause those who are spoken about as such to be questioned as guilty. Therefore, such who seek to accuse those fall into the hands of the courts, in order to judge them falsely, but those who are innocent cause by their false testimony to be judged for the crime they were falsely accuseing him of and are punished accordingly. Which leaves us with the last issue, the judgement of hell. One who accuses a man of foolishness when he speaks the truth violates a serious thing for all truth comes from the Holy Spirit therefore if you call a man who speaks the truth of Torah foolish your blaspheming G-ds Holy Spirit. When we probe deeper we find in it Yeshua was warning the Sanhedrin elders saying, “Why do you hate me when I have commited no act of wrong? Be careful lest you be judged by G-d and die in this hate and stand before the Heavenly Court and be judged for telling men false accusations about me and be judged for it and for lableing my words as foolish and be handed over to the fires of Hell.”