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Do Not Say RAQA! - Yeshua on Anger (Part 2)

In the last blog, we covered the first part of Yeshua’s lesson on Anger -- An Angry Person Should be Tried in Court like a Murderer – keep in mind that “anger” is the focus of Yeshua’s lesson.

“Whoever says to a brother, ‘RAKA,’ shall be answerable to the Sanhedrin.” [i]

Yeshua reveals that the seriousness of the offense has become greater by elevating the crime to the next highest court – the Sanhedrin. It is the highest court in the nation and would be the equivalent of our Supreme Court. What makes this offense more serious than murder, to keep things in the context established by Yeshua? It is because of what the angry person said out of anger – “RAKA!”

RAKA is the English transliteration of the Greek word found in the ancient manuscripts of Matthew. Interestingly, the Greek word is also a transliteration of a Hebrew word into Greek. Keep in mind that when a translator working on a translation of a Greek manuscript transliterates a Greek word, he only finds the closest equivalent English letters for those of the Greek word. He transports the letters or symbols from one language to another. On the other hand, if he translates the Greek word, he finds the closest equivalent meaning of the Greek word and transports it into English. Therefore, in this case, someone transliterated a Hebrew word into Greek, and later, someone else transliterated the Greek transliteration into English.

When we turn to Yeshua’s Jewish culture, we find that the original word, the Hebrew word (transliterated), was RAQA. This word is found in a number of Hebrew accounts, but I will use one from the Talmud to make its meaning clear..

[20a] "Our Rabbis have taught: A man should always be gentle as the reed and never unyielding as the cedar.  Once R. Eleazar son of R. Simeon was coming from Migdal Gedor, from the house of his teacher, and he was riding leisurely on his ass by the riverside and was feeling happy and elated because he had studied much Torah [20b].  There chanced to meet him an exceedingly ugly man who greeted him, `Peace be upon you, Sir.'  He, however, did not return his salutation but instead said to him, `RAQA (you useless and empty thing), how ugly you are.  Are all your fellow citizens as ugly as you are?'  The man replied: `I do not know, but go and tell the craftsman who made me, "How ugly is the vessel which you have made.'

When R. Eleazar realized that he had done wrong he dismounted from the ass and prostrated himself before the man and said to him, `I submit myself to you, forgive me.'  The man replied: `I will not forgive you until you go to the craftsman who made me and say to him, `How ugly is the vessel which you have made".' 

He [R. Eleazar] walked behind him until he reached his native city.  When his fellow citizens came out to meet him greeting him with the words, `Peace be upon you 0 Teacher, 0 Master,' the man asked them, `Whom are you addressing thus?'  They replied, `The man who is walking behind you.'  Thereupon he exclaimed: `If this man is a teacher, may there not be any more like him in Israel!'  The people then asked him: `Why?'  He replied: `Such and such a thing has he done to me.' 

They said to him: `Nevertheless, forgive him, for he is a man greatly learned in the Torah.'  The man replied: `For your sakes I will forgive him, but only on the condition that he does not act in the same manner in the future.' "[ii]

RAQA means "useless, empty and of no value." In the above story, a famous rabbi was guilty of calling the ugly man “RAQA,” because of his physical looks.  Interestingly, it was the ugly man that sounded like a learned rabbi when he said – “but go and tell the craftsman who made me, "How ugly is the vessel which you have made.” This clearly reminded the famous rabbi that “all people are made in the image of the Creator.”

The rabbi immediately understood and acknowledged his error and asked the man to forgive him. When the man did not, the rabbi walked behind the man (a sign of repentance) until they reached the man’s native city. He did not forgive the rabbi until his fellow citizens begged him to do so – and then he only did it for their sake, not the rabbi’s.

Now let’s use this cultural clue to help us accurately understand what Yeshua taught:

“Whoever says (out of anger) to a brother, ‘you are useless, empty and of no value,’ shall be tried by the highest court, the Sanhedrin.” [iii]

The point Yeshua makes is that what one says can increase the seriousness of the offense and one must be aware of this when angry. Be aware of the danger of using words to contradict what the Creator declared about all humans – every person is created in the image of the Creator – by saying that the person you are angry with is “useless. Empty and of not value.” Remember what the Creator said, even though you may want to use words to harm that person by lowering his or her value in the eyes of others.

Yeshua hasn’t finished this lesson on anger. It will continue in the next blog.

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[i] Matthew 5:22
[ii] Taanit 20a-b
[iii] Matthew 5:22

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