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Daily manna from the Torah by Dr Ketriel Blad

BeChukotay 33-4

In my statutes

Leviticus 27:1-15

Speak to the people of Israel and say to them, If anyone makes a special vow to the LORD involving the valuation of persons, then the valuation of a male from twenty years old up to sixty years old shall be fifty shekels of silver, according to the shekel of the sanctuary. If the person is a female, the valuation shall be thirty shekels.

Lev. 27:1-4 ESV

Can a soul be valued by money?

This text speaks about vows that a person can do to give his soul for the maintenance and conservation of the Temple. And because one cannot give ones soul, which is not material, one can give money instead, which symbolizes the value of a soul. But the value of a man's soul is too high to be redeemed so that it will never see death, compare with Psalm 49:8-9. This is, therefore, a question of a symbolic price that the Torah puts on a person's soul. If a person wants to give his life to the temple, he can give money which would represent his soul. The Midrash Tanchumah says, "If you give the value of a soul, I consider it to be as if you had offered it."

The value that is determined here has nothing to do with the price that would be charged for a person if they were sold at a slave market. This is a question of a fixed price that the Torah establishes according to gender and age. Neither should we understand this as meaning that some people are more valuable than others, or that men are worth more than women because everyone is just as valuable to HaShem.

In order for a person to be able to give money that would represent his soul, he must do it in accordance with his ability to generate material possessions. Those who have more physical strength have greater ability to produce riches through physical labor. A man between the ages of twenty and sixty must therefore pay more than anyone else, since that is the age in which he has the highest capability to produce money through physical labor. A woman of the same age does not normally have the same physical capabilities. The Torah, therefore, does not require as much of her, so that she will not feel inferior to the man if she is not able to reach the same level of productivity. The Torah accepts offerings according to the ability of each person, as it is written in 2 Corinthians 8:12, "For if the readiness is there, it is acceptable according to what you have, not according to what you don’t have." (HNV)

This aliyah also teaches that when it concerns the value of a soul, a poor man is not considered less than a rich man, but all who are within a certain age group and are of the same gender are valued the same. If someone, who is poor, wishes to give money according to the value of his soul, he can do so for a smaller sum, according to the discernment of the priest. In such a case HaShem considers him to have given the full sum (compare with verse 8).

The one who has given his soul for the service in the house of the Eternal will automatically give money to the work that builds up His house, both in heaven and on earth.



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