Rabbi Yosef Landa
n this weeks parsha, Hashem commands us regarding the
mitzvah of Erechin.Untranslatable in English as a single
word, essentially the Torah gives a fixed monetary value for
every person based on age group and gender, and if someone pledges
to donate his or her Erech, or value, to the Bais HaMikdosh,
it is this amount that must be donated.
Upon analyzing the amounts the Torah specifies, one finds a
puzzling dichotomy. On one hand the amount seems to be scaled
according to ones ability to perform work, mirroring somewhat
the price one might fetch if sold as a slave. For instance,
a males value is as follows; age 0-5 years - five shekalim,
5-20 years- twenty shekalim, 20-60 years - fifty shekalim and
finally 60 years and higher fifteen shekalim. On the
other hand, within each age group the price doesnt change
at all, regardless of whether one is healthy or sick, rich or
poor, smart or less so, beautiful or not. This second facet
of unchanging values despite the level of physical capacity
for work is very understandable from a religious perspective.
An individuals worth is intrinsic and stems from the fact
that his soul was endowed by Hashem and all that matters is
Torah and good deeds. How though can the Torah assign a specific
monetary value to a person at all? And why is it not based partially
on physical ability? How can we say that the "worth"
of a 55-year-old male is 50 shekalim and a 62-year-old male
is only 15 shekalim?
The Torah is Hashems wisdom and therefore of infinite
breadth and depth, and one cannot say he has fully grasped and
understands the rationale of a specific mitzvah. We may, however,
attempt an understanding inasmuch as we are able.
The fixed amount of ones Erech regardless of market
value represents the "ruchnius" element, the
soul and spark of G-dliness in all of us. It corresponds to
our capability of drawing near to Hashem and our ability to
do good; physical attributes play no role here.
The fluctuating component of the Erechin, where age and
gender have an effect, represents the inescapable physicality
of our existence that we are subject to and bound by. The "facts
on the ground" are that physical capabilities and attributes
play a significant role.
The truth is, however, that Hashem wants "neshamos
bgufim," souls clothed in corporeal bodies doing
mitzvos with physical things. The Torah wants us to partake
of the physical world, not for its own sake, but to sanctify
it and imbue it with special meaning.
This is the concept of Erechin. Hashem tells us to serve
him with our ruchni and gashmi, with both our
spiritual and physical sides, with our neshamos
bgufim. We are neither to deny ourselves all things
physical nor to indulge in them. Both should coexist, with the
condition, however, that the ruach elevate the geshem
and harness it in the service of Hashem.
As we find that on the verse "If a man make a vow to
Hashem on the valuation of souls" our Sages comment,
"Hashem says bring before me your Erechin and I will
consider it as if you brought your soul to me."
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