Parshas Behar-Bechukosai:
Fair Market Value

by Rabbi Yosef Landa

I n this week’s 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 male’s 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 doesn’t 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 individual’s 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 Hashem’s 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 one’s 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 b’gufim," 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 b’gufim. 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."


Parsha Encounters is 1998 by the Chicago Community Kollel

Published May 21,1998

By Yosef Landa a full-time member of the Chicago Community Kollel  



Copyright 1999 to present by Chicago Community Kollel