Sometimes people think of the Law as a harsh standard that promoted eye-for-eye vendettas. According to this view, Yeshua came to replace the Torah’s spirit of retaliation and harsh judgment with a new rule of pacifism and non-violence:
But I say to you, do not resist an evil person; but whoever slaps you on your right cheek, turn the other to him also. – Matthew 5:39
When Yeshua told His disciples, “Whoever hits you on the cheek, offer him the other also” (Luke 6:29), He directed them to refrain from personal revenge and acts of retaliation; He did not prohibit them from acting in self-defense or the defense of others. He called His disciples to be merciful, forgiving, and long-suffering, but He did not call them to abandon protecting others or to submit willingly to brutality. Nor did He ask His disciples to receive blows without objecting. When the court officers in the house of Caiaphas smote Yeshua on the cheek, He protested the mistreatment, as did Paul when the high priest Ananias ordered him struck.
The blow to the cheek represents any insult, taunt, or public humiliation. According to the rabbis, striking a man on the cheek constituted a public shaming for which the rabbis imposed fines: two hundred zuz if a man struck another with his palm, four hundred zuz if he struck him with the back of his hand (m. Bava Kama 8:6).
Yeshua did not contradict the Torah. Instead, He upheld the Torah principle that says, “You shall not take vengeance, nor bear any grudge against the sons of your people” (Leviticus 19:18). Similarly, the Talmud says, “If your associate calls you a donkey, put a saddle on your back.” This saying is not to be taken literally; rather to accept the insult in love and forgive your fellow his blows.
If you are struck you must forgive the offender even though he does not ask for your forgiveness. – t. Bava Kama 9:8
The Didache transmits Yeshua’s teaching as, “If one gives you a blow upon your right cheek, turn to him the other also; and then you shall be perfect” (Didache 1:4). Yeshua lived out His teaching, suffering many a blow and violent wounding, as the prophet Isaiah predicted, “I gave My back to those who strike Me, and My cheeks to those who pluck out the beard; I did not cover My face from humiliation and spitting” (Isaiah 50:6). “While being reviled, He did not revile in return; while suffering, He uttered no threats, but kept entrusting Himself to Him who judges righteously” (1 Peter 2:23). Yeshua called His disciples to resist the urge to retaliate against insult and blow, but instead to leave the matter in the hands of God. “Never take your own revenge, beloved, but leave room for the wrath of God, for it is written [in Deuteronomy 32:35], ‘Vengeance is mine, I will repay,’ says the Lord” (Romans 12:19).
This article originally appeared on First Fruits of Zion.