BECHUKOSAI (Leviticus 26:3-27:34) — “Your Money or your Wife!”

How much is a person worth?  What is the dollars-and-cents cash value of a human being?

When the Temple stood, a person could pledge a sacrifice to be offered on the Altar.  It could be an animal offering or a meal offering.  Some offerings were totally burnt on the Altar.  The Priests ate some offerings, while others were consumed by the owner of the animal.

A person could also contribute money.  This week’s Torah Portion addresses the issue of a person who donates his personal value to the Temple.  The Torah assigns Shekel values to people of various genders and age groups. One fulfils his vow by donating that assigned value.

It does seem a bit strange that the Torah sets a price for human beings.

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The Book of Judges tells us the heartbreaking story of Yiftach, whose poor judgment led to a tragedy for his daughter. Yiftach was praying for success in battle against the Ammonites.  He offered G-d a “deal”: “If You deliver Ammon into my hands, the first thing that comes out of my house to greet me, I will offer as a sacrifice.” (Judges, 11:31).

The Talmud says that Yiftach had made an irresponsible vow.  Not every animal is acceptable as an offering.  If the family cow or his pet lamb had ambled out the door to meet him, either one would have served as a fine Thanksgiving offer on the Altar.  But what would he do if he were greeted by Fido or his daughter’s pet iguana?!

Actually, the scenario was even worse.  Yiftach returns home from battle victorious, full of gratitude to G-d for assisting him.  He eagerly anticipates finding an offering with which to express his thanks to his Creator.  Will it be his prize bull or a fat lamb?  Will it be a milk-producing cow, or perhaps one of his goats?  There to greet him he discovers, to his shock . . . his one and only daughter!

In the traditional expression of mourning, Yiftach tore his garment, and tearfully explained that she had been pledged as an offering to be sacrificed to G-d.  Yiftach’s poor judgment continued to misguide him.  He refused to go to the High Priest to request annulment of his vow.  (“I’m a leader!  Let HIM come to ME!”)

As a result, Yiftach’s daughter was “sacrificed.”  She lived the rest of her life as a hermit, unable to marry, serving G-d in solitude.

Yiftach ruined his daughter’s life.  All he really had to do, if anything, would have been to donate her value as assigned by the Torah. (Depending upon her age, between three and thirty silver Shekels)  Actually, the Midrash tells us that he didn’t even have to do that!  A person has no right to give away something that is not his!

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Yiftach’s misplaced PIETY led to misplaced PRIORITY.  How could this have happened?  Would anyone really put such low priority on human life?  Consider the following:

The Torah Commands us to love G-d “…with all your heart, with all your soul, and with all your resources.” (Deuteronomy, 6:5) The Talmud explains that the Torah is telling us that we must resist forced conversion to other religions at all costs.  We should be willing to give up our lives for our faith (“with all your soul“).  We should also be willing to give up our money (“with all your resources“) for our faith.

There is an obvious question here: Once the Torah tells us that we are required to forfeit our very lives for our religion, doesn’t it follow that we should certainly be willing to part with our possessions?!

Not necessarily.  Some people actually attach a greater value to their money than they do to their lives.  That’s why they drive themselves, to the detriment of their own health and familial relationships, in pursuit of the almighty dollar.  (“We ruin our health to acquire wealth.  Then we spend all of our wealth in order to regain our health!”)

The Torah “assigns” a monetary value to a human life.  Not that there is such a value.  Every human being, created in G-d’s image, is priceless.  The Torah is telling us to maintain perspective.  We are not USUALLY required to give up our lives for Torah (with a few rare exceptions.) Rather, we are supposed to take those material possessions that G-d gives us, and channel them toward good purposes.

It has been observed that it is relatively easy to GIVE one’s life for G-d.  (Look at all the misguided murderers who blow themselves to pieces, expecting eternal life in a perverted paradise.)

It is a much bigger challenge to LIVE one’s life for G-d.

Have a great Shabbos.

Rabbi Yerachmiel Seplowitz

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From the Archives 

(Sometimes the Torah Portions of Behar and Bechukosai are read in the same week, and sometimes they are read in separate weeks.  To avoid confusion, both are listed here) 

From Behar, the first of this week’s two Torah Portions 

“The Palestinians are Right!” (2010)

 Israel is ours.

From time immemorial, theLandofIsraelhas been inhabited by Jews.  There is no such thing asPalestine.  The so-called “Palestinians” need to wake up to that fact, get a life, and move on.

The Palestinians, on the other hand, dismiss this notion as wishful thinking on the part of the Jews.  They continue to argue that there is no proof that the Land is ours…

Of course, as we know, the Palestinians are wrong … Right? …

THE TRUTH IS THAT … ISRAELDOES  NOT BELONG TO THE JEWS.  It never has…

Read more.

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“The Price of Tea in China” (2006)

“…  For six years you may sow your field, and for six years you may prune your vineyard, and you may gather its crop.  But the seventh year will be a complete rest for the Land…”

…  A farmer works his field for six years, trying his hardest to produce an income to support his family.  Now we tell him to take a year off.

Take a year off?!  How am I gonna eat?!

Good question…

Read more.

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“Aharon Moshe — Servant of G-d and His Children” (2005)

… It is customary among Chassidim to bring written requests to righteous people.  All of their needs are written on these “Kvittlach” — notes, and the righteous people are asked to pray to G-d for the fulfillment of these requests.  After the Second World War, there was a dearth of such holy people.

One great Rabbi, the Rebbe of Satmar, of Blessed Memory, was asked what to do.  “Now that so many of our Tzaddikim, righteous people, have been killed, to whom should we bring our requests for blessings?”

The Rebbe gave two answers…

This was not an easy article to write.  (Tears don’t show up on computer screens.)…

Read more.

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“Ask a Stupid Question…” (2004)

… CHAYIM: I can’t believe what happened to me today!

YANKEL: What happened?

CHAYIM: A guy came by the office today selling ties.  He showed me some hand-made silk ties.  He told me that they were worth $50, but he was willing to sell them for only $30.  What a bargain!  Twenty dollars off!  I bought five!

YANKEL: That’s great, Chayim!  What’s the problem?  You saved $100!  That’s wonderful!

CHAYIM: Well, not exactly.  As it turned out, they were actually made of polyester, and are available on Ebay for $3 apiece.

YANKEL: Oh…Uh, Chayim…

CHAYIM: Yes, Yankel?

YANKEL:  You, my dear friend, are a jerk.  A naive, stupid fool!  You should be ashamed of yourself!  What’s the matter with you?!  How could you allow yourself to be ripped off like that?!  Boy, that con man must be laughing at you now!

We have just observed two violations of Torah Law…

Read more.

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“Free as a Bird” (2002)

We’re all familiar with the famous words on the Liberty Bell: “Proclaim Liberty throughout the land…” Many people are not aware that it is actually a quote from the Torah. (Leviticus, 25:10)

…”Proclaim ‘D’ROR’ throughout the land.”

You’ll notice that I left the word “D’ROR” untranslated. Most commentaries give comparable translations… synonymous with the bell-maker’s translation – “Liberty.”

… Rabbi Avraham Ibn Ezra presents an interesting insight into the word “D’ROR.” … the Dror is a very independent bird. As long as it is in its own nest, it sings to its heart’s content. However, once it is taken into captivity it silently refuses to eat and eventually starves. (“Give me liberty or give me death!”)…

Read more.

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From Bechukosai, the second of this week’s two Torah Portions 

“Don’t Just STAND There…” (2009)

We strive to be holy.  It is not an easy task.  The Torah was not given to angels; it was given to human beings with human weaknesses.  Yet, we make the effort.

In our daily prayers, we make reference to the angels in Heaven and the divine symphony of praise that they offer to G-d every day…

The Heavens ring forth with holiness that we mortals cannot even begin to imagine, much less, understand.  Yet we try:

We shall sanctify Your Name in this world, just as they sanctify it in Heaven above, as it is written by Your prophet, “they call one another and say:  ‘Holy, holy, holy..’

The above prayer is recited standing, with our feet together as if they are one foot, just like the angels, about whom it is written, and their legs are one straight leg” (Ezekiel 1:7) and who are referred to as “Standers.” (Zechariah, 3:7)

All this, of course, begs the question: whom are we trying to kid??!

We are simple, mortal human beings.  How can we even contemplate a serious attempt at being like the angels?  Their level of holiness is so far beyond ours that it seems pointless to even make the comparison…

Read more.

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“Confessions of a Would-Be Vegetarian” (2005)

… it began to sink in.  Do I really want to KILL my chickens?  Do I really want toEATmy chickens?  After months of watching their antics, running and wing-flapping and squawking around my back yard, making me laugh and giving me eggs, do I really want to put them in a soup pot?…

Read more.

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“Your Money or your Wife!” (2003)

How much is a person worth?  What is the dollars-and-cents cash value of a human being? … The Book of Judges tells us the heartbreaking story of Yiftach, whose poor judgment led to a tragedy … Yiftach was praying for success in battle … “If You deliver Ammon into my hands, the first thing that comes out of my house to greet me, I will offer as a sacrifice.” (Judges,11:31).

The Talmud says that Yiftach had made an irresponsible vow.  Not every animal is acceptable as an offering.  If the family cow or his pet lamb had ambled out the door to meet him, either one would have served as a fine Thanksgiving offer on the Altar.  But what would he do if he were greeted by Fido or his daughter’s pet iguana?!

Actually, the scenario was even worse…

Read more.

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“Labor Gains” (2001)

Jewish life is all about choices.  We are given the option of choosing the path that G-d wants us to follow, or a path that goes the other way.  Either way, says the Torah, there are consequences to our choices….

We are, of course, proud to be Jewish.  We fulfill Mitzvahs and we recite prayers.  But do we LABOR IN TORAH?  Do we toil and struggle to make Torah the be-all, end-all emphasis of our lives?  Is Torah our lifeblood?  Or is it little more than a cultural appendage, a potpourri of chicken soup, matzah balls and gefilte fish?… There are two types of people who subscribe to my weekly messages…

Read more.

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This is the weekly message at www.torahtalk.org.   Copyright © 2000-2011 by Rabbi Yerachmiel Seplowitz.  May be reprinted. Please include copyright information.

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Rabbi Yerachmiel Seplowitz is a Mohel (www.Brisrabbi.com) and chaplain inMonsey,New York. For information about scheduling a Bris or a lecture, or just to say hello, call (800) 83MOHEL.

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Published in: on May 15, 2003 at 5:26 am  Leave a Comment  

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