Devarim (Deuteronomy) 19:21
"And your eyes shall not pity; life shall go for life, eye for eye, tooth for tooth, hand for hand, foot for foot."
There are many passages concerning restitution within Scripture; we shall examine a few of them here in this study. The idea of restitution is a very ancient one. Nearly all societies have had some form of it within their own laws. This is no less true for the society which YHWH desires for His own people.
There are several elements in the above passage which are important to our discussion in this study concerning restitution. One of those principles contained in the above passage is the idea that, whatever the loss to the victim, this is what it should cost the perpetrator of the crime in question. It needs to be of like value. However, this may not be a literal loss/return cost. Why do we suggest this?
As we will see below, the cost of restitution may be double, four times, or even five times, the value of that which was taken or damaged depending upon what it was. This restitution also includes a fine to the convicted man which goes to the priests and Levites in the form of sacrifices and offerings. Yet, nowhere in Torah is the written punishment for any specific crime to be the putting out of an eye, the removal of a tooth, or the chopping off of a hand or foot. There are crimes for which one can lose his life, however. Since the loss of life in the above passage is listed first followed by these other "punishments," it, too, may be more figurative than literal in this particular case.
When one examines the context of the above passage, one discovers that it is discussing a false witness, in particular. When a person comes forward and falsely testifies in an effort to have evil befall the person being testified against, whatever he was hoping to see done to his neighbor is to be done to him. Once again, it is important to note that whatever that verdict may have been against his neighbor, it could not have included the loss of an eye, tooth, foot, or hand. Torah simply does not call for any of these as punishments or judgments. Therefore, one can begin to see that this is more figurative than literal. We would suggest that this phrase is idiomatic in nature. The point then is as follows, whatever the cost to the person who was being falsely testified against, this same cost must be assessed against the one falsely accusing.
The use of "eye" may be seen as including those things which he sees as being very dear to him. The use of "tooth" may be understood as including those things which he needs to provide food for himself and his family. The use of "hand" may be understood as symbolically representing his ability to work. The use of "foot" may be understood as symbolically representing his means of travel. Therefore, even if it means losing one of these important things in his life, pity is not to be shown to him in order to render a righteous judgment, because this is what he attempted to have happen to his neighbor or brother.
Furthermore, this brings us to another principle-pity. As we discussed in the previous study, pity is not the same as mercy. We are to show no pity towards a false witness, for he has intentionally set out with malice to harm his brother or neighbor. However he had hoped to injure his fellow man is to be done to him without any pity towards him. This in turn will cause the people to fear YHWH, and they shall not set out to intentionally harm through false testimony, their brothers and neighbors.
This next section of Scripture, Shemot 22:1-14, has many items dealing with restitution. While it is important that one person wronged receive just recompense for the wrong done to him, this is not the primary purpose of restitution. Its primary purpose is restoration of broken relationships. YHWH desires for his people to live peaceably with one another. But if one intentionally or unintentionally harms another, then that causes a fracture in the relationship. That fracture needs to be healed. The best way for that to be forthcoming is for the injured party to receive remittance for his loss from the party who caused that loss. It also causes all those living in such a society to be more careful in their dealings with one another.