The Bani Israel are people who accepted Judaism, and in verses 84-85 we are continuing with their stories in order to learn what pleases and displeases Allah (SWT). We should strive to do that which brings us the mercy of Allah (SWT), and avoid those things that repel His mercy.
Verse 84 reads, "And (remember) when We took your covenant (saying): Shed not the blood of your (people), nor turn out your own people from their dwellings. Then, (this) you ratified and (to this) you bear witness." This is basically a covenant that the Bani Israel took with Allah, making a promise of three essential things.
i) Not to kill one another. When someone had decided to follow Musa (AS), they were not allowed to fight or kill one another.
ii) Not to force each other into exile.
iii) This is not mentioned specifically, but the third thing promised here is that if there were any prisoners of war from the tribe, the Bani Israel would take the responsibility of freeing that prisoner. So if another group of people captured people from the Bani Israel, the Bani Israel would have to take it upon themselves to free the person from their tribe.
There are different levels of acceptance of an agreement, ranging from doing something without wanting to do it, to doing something with full will-power. Here, the people of the Bani Israel went on to the extent of promising Allah about these things, and bear witnessing that they will fulfill their promise, portraying that they agreed whole-heartedly.
Verse 85, however, continues on to say that nonetheless, you yourselves (the Bani Israel) killed one another, drove your tribe members away from their homes, assisting your enemies against them in sin and transgression.
This means that the people who made the covenant, broke the promise themselves. The verse then goes on to state, "And if they come to you as captives, you ransom them, although their expulsion was forbidden to you. Then do you believe in a part of the Scripture and reject the rest?" The one promise that these people did fulfill, however, was to give ransom and free any of their tribe members if they were captured by other tribes. It is evident that they are therefore following only some parts of the Torah, and neglecting others. That is why Allah asks them if they only believe in some parts of the Scripture, rejecting whatever they feel like.
This ayah is also related to a case around the time of the Prophet Muhammad (SAW). Years before he was born, the Jews knew that a Prophet was about to come, because their Book had described him, and they also knew relatively in which area he would be, meaning around Madinah. The most righteous among the Bani Israel left their homes and moved toward Madinah, seeking the Prophet, and they had a very good intention. They were waiting for him in order to support him and follow him, hoping that the Prophet would bring back glory to them. There were two such righteous groups who moved to Madinah. These two groups started off by living harmoniously together as a family, but as time went on and they interacted more with the local Arabs of the area, the two groups started to have conflicts amongst one another.
There were two major groups of Arabs before the coming of the Prophet (SAW): Aus, and Khazraj. These two groups used to fight frequently with one another, and one of the reasons they wanted the Prophet (SAW) to come to Madinah was to unite the two groups, because they themselves were tired of fighting. When the Jews came into this city, they began to divide themselves as well, taking sides with these two groups. They had come with a positive intention, to follow the Messenger, and they were in it together. However, when they got into the environment of so much fitnah and fighting, they were also caught up in it. That's why it's important to stay in the right environment. So this ayah also refers to these people who fought amongst their own people.
So Allah questions them, about how they are mocking their religion, acting upon one portion of the book while ignoring others. The same ayah continues, "Then what is the recompense of those who do so among you, except disgrace in the life of this world, and on the Day of Resurrection they shall be consigned to the most grievous torment. And Allâh is not unaware of what you do." This highlights 2 things: (i) The basis of this ayah is the mockery of the Book of Allah. (ii) Allah (SWT) highlights the result of that sort of action. It explains how people will be disgraced in this life and the next, and that's exactly what happened with both of these tribes.
If we go into the history of the tribes during the time of the Prophet (SAW), then we can see how this happened. Both of the tribes were waiting for the Last Messenger of Allah in Madinah. They already believed in Allah, the wahy, and were seeking the final Messenger. When Rasul Allah (SAW) saw these qualities, he knew that they were one of the most likely people to enter Islam, making him more inclined towards them, and made a covenant with them, which was to assist the Muslims in the spread of the deen, and in return the Muslims will invite them to the deen, but they did not have to embrace Islam if they didn't want to. So initially, both tribes were protected under this covenant.
There is yet another story related to this one. There was another tribe, whose chief came to Prophet Muhammad (SAW) and said he was interested in Islam, but not totally convinced yet. He wanted the Prophet to send over some of his companions to his tribe to teach them about Islam. The Prophet hesitated at first, because the people of the tribe could kill his companions. But the chief assured him that their protection was guaranteed. What the Prophet didn't know was that this was a weak chief, who did not have that much power over his people. And sure enough, when Rasul Allah (SAW) sent around 40 of his companions to the tribe, almost all of them were slaughtered by the tribe on the way itself. The remaining 2 headed back, but one of the men killed 2 men from the tribe that slaughtered the companions. When the Prophet heard about this, he said that there must have been some misunderstanding, and the 2 men who were killed from the other tribe were actually innocent. Therefore, blood money should be sent to the family members. So he went to the wealthy tribe who was assisting them, and asked for them to help out. They did not agree immediately, but said let's discuss it over dinner, with the companions of the Prophet (SAW). When it was time for dinner, there was a strange scene, in which the Prophet entered with the Sahabis and sat down. Meanwhile, the people of the tribe whispered amongst themselves, and some of them at the back were leaving the room quietly. This raised doubt in the Prophet's mind. Then, angel Jibreel came to the Prophet and told him that they are planning to kill you, leave immediately. And without saying a word, the Messenger left. His companions found him in his house a while later, when they realized that he is not going to be returning for dinner, and asked him what happened. The Prophet said that this tribe had broken the covenant, and they should be told to leave Madinah within 10 days or the Muslims will fight them. The tribe decided to stay and fight, because they thought they were more powerful, and also the Muslim hypocrites said they would support them. However, when the battle started, the tribe had less people than the Muslims, because the hypocrites did not join them, and also, as the news spread of the battle, more and more Muslims were coming from all directions to help out. In the end, the tribe told the Prophet that they will prefer to leave. The Prophet said that we had given you the chance to leave earlier, but you did not listen. However, we will let you leave if you take only the wealth that will fit on your camels with you, but leave the rest. This tribe was extremely wealthy, and the people of Madinah were amazed to see them leaving with a large amount of jewels and expensive clothing, and yet there was so much left in Madinah. This wealth was distributed to the poor and to the travelers who came from Makkah to Madinah. And this is how the tribe was made to leave disgracefully.
Then there was the second tribe. They did not support the first tribe in all the planning, and so their covenant with the Muslims was protected. This is why the Prophet (SAW) treated them as equals, even though they did not accept Islam.
InshaAllah in the next post I will continue this topic about what happened with the second tribe. May Allah (SWT) give us the tawfiq to learn from these stories, and learn that He is the best of planners, not us. Ameen.