Man Is Priceless
- HaRav Avigdor Nebenzahl
- May 14, 2009
The end of Parshat Bechukotai teaches us that a person may pledge his own value or that of another person to the Beit HaMikdash. There are two possible values that can be assigned to an individual - damim - a monetary value based on his worth as a slave in the open market at that moment, and erech - a fixed value based on age and gender irrespective of physical condition. These latter values are assigned at the end of our parsha (e.g. one who pledges the value of a man between the ages of twenty and sixty has in effect pledged fifty shekels to the Beit HaMikdash, while the value of a woman in the same age bracket is thirty shekels). The mitzvah of Pidyon HaBen, the redeeming of the firstborn son, is another example where we find the Torah assigning an absolute value (five selah) to a person, regardless of how successful the child will become.
Perhaps we can explain that the monetary value is one's physical worth - his value in terms of manpower, this can be measured in the open market. Erech on the other hand refers to a person's spiritual worth. Given that a human being's spiritual value is infinite, the Torah saw fit to assign a fixed rate. Why then are there differences in value based on the factors mentioned above (age and gender)? A person's ability to perform mitzvot varies depending on his stage of life. We do not find varying rates within the age and gender category depending on the person's health or on whether or not he is learned. There is even an opinion in the Gemara that a non-Jew also has an erech value.
The value of a human being is greater than all the items in the world, all the money, silver, and gold combined. We may violate the Shabbat to save a human being, but we may not do so in order to save our gold and silver. A human being is priceless and it is therefore impossible to measure his value - the Torah therefore had to designate a price.
ERETZ YISRAEL IS MEASURED BY A SPIRITUAL YARDSTICK
A person cannot pledge the erech of a utensil or an animal because one cannot assign a spiritual value to these items. There is only one item, apart from human beings, to which the Torah assigned a fixed value. We read in our parsha: "if a man consecrates a field from his ancestral heritage to Hashem, the valuation shall be according to its seeding: an area seeded by a 'chomer' of barley for fifty silver shekels.
If he consecrates his field from the Jubilee Year, it shall remain at its valuation. And if he consecrates his field after the Jubilee, the Kohen shall calculate the money for him according to the remaining years until the Jubilee Year, and it shall be subtracted from its valuation" (Vayikra 27:16-18). Based on the above idea it appears that similar to man, the value of Eretz Yisrael is not measured in purely economic terms.
The essence of Eretz Yisrael is as a place in which to serve Hashem and observe mitzvoth, its value is thus infinite. Any monetary value can only be assigned by the Torah.
The Torah relates in Parshat Vayishlach: "he (Yaakov) bought the parcel of land upon which he pitches his tent" (Bereishit 33:19). The Ibn Ezra comments on this pasuk that one who acquires an ancestral land in Eretz Yisrael is likened to one who has purchased an inheritance in the Next World. Chazal tell us "Better one hour of spiritual bliss in the World to Come than the entire life of this world" (Avot 4:23). This "one hour" is the equivalent of passing by a royal feast and just smelling the aroma. This whiff of the Next World is better than the entire life in this world. In a similar fashion, the value of land in Eretz Yisrael, like an inheritance in the Next World, is priceless. Rashi in his usual concise manner teaches that true performance of mitzvoth can only be performed in Eretz Yisrael. The Ramban elaborates on this theme. Observance of mitzvoth outside of Israel is only in order to "Make road markers for yourself" (Yirmiyahu 31:20). Although the Torah tells us "it is a Sabbath for Hashem in all your dwelling places" (Vayikra 23:3), the essential mitzvah is in Eretz Yisrael. There is no value we can possibly assign to a me-ein olam haba, the Torah therefore assigned a value.
"MAN IS SLIGHTLY LESS THAN HASHEM"
We must be aware of how important we are - a human being is not simply an animal with two legs, but has spiritual capabilities as well. Our value is priceless.
David Hamelech declared "when I behold Your heavens, the work of Your fingers" (Tehillim 8:4) - what a vast universe we live in measuring tens of millions of light years. David HaMelech continues: "What is frail man that You should remember him, and the son of mortal man that You should be mindful of him" (ibid. 5). Man is so insignificant in so vast a creation. The Milky Way is a minute portion of the creation, the Solar System a small part of the Milky Way, the earth a miniscule portion of the universe, Yerushalayim a very tiny portion of the earth. Me? I am so insignificant, the space I take up in Yerushalayim is hardly noticeable! If so, "what is frail man that You should remember him?" Man appears almost non-existent in this vast universe, he has no value or importance. David, however, immediately claims: "Yet, you have made him but slightly less than Elokim" (ibid. 6).
Am I only slightly less than Hashem? Although Chazal tell us that this pasuk refers to Moshe Rabenu (see Rosh Hashana 21b), this is because Moshe was the only one to attain this level. Every human being, however, has the potential to reach this state of perfection. If I am so insignificant, how is it that you have made him but slightly less than Elokim? How can this be? Hashem is infinite and me? I perhaps take up four amot according to the measurement of HaRav Chaim Naeh (certainly not the measurements of the Chazon Ish!). Hashem "lives forever and endures to eternity". Me? If only I will live my full one hundred and twenty years. Hashem is All-Powerful and knows all, while I have no power and know almost nothing!
MAN RULES OVER THE CREATION
The pasuk continues "You give him dominion over Your handiwork, You place everything under his feet" (Tehillim 8:7). Does man rule over creation? If I go out on a hot day I will get a headache, on a cold day I will get a sore throat. If I were to cross the street on a red light, it is not the car that will be under my feet but, G-d forbid, the opposite. Where then do we see "you place everything under his feet"? All I see under my feet are shoes and socks!
On a physical level man does not rule over the creation. Spiritually, however, it is man who rules. Man's mitzvoth, good deeds (or the contrary), determine how the world is run. Every word of Torah that we learn, every act of chesed we perform, every prayer we recite, even our failures, carry incredible weight. With this in mind, we can now understand the verse "You have made him but slightly less than Elokim". It is man who, so to speak, dictates to Hashem what will be. We are the ladder which the angels climbed in Yaakov Avinu's dream.
THE IMPORTANCE OF FEELING IMPORTANT
It is cited in the name of the Vilna Gaon that a person cannot succeed without kavod - without feeling a sense of importance. This certainly does not imply that a person should demand kavod, not only should he not demand it but he should do his utmost to honor and respect others. What it means here is that a person requires self-esteem in order to survive, to realize his own self-worth and the worth of every Jew and human being. When my Rebbe HaGaon HaRav Yechezkel Levinstein zt"l was an elderly man, he found it difficult to speak even to a young bachur who stood while he sat: "I can't talk to a tzelem Elokim who stands while I sit" - such was the respect he had for other human beings. Of course, just as we must be cognizant of our own value, we must accord kavod to others.
Chazal teach us that when a person arrives in the Next World he will be asked "himlachta et Konecha" "Did you crown your Creator?" Did you accept Hashem as King upon yourself? He will then be asked: "himlachta et chaverecha" "Did you crown your fellow Jew?" We must realize that human beings, even non-Jews are created in the image of Hashem. How much more so must we honor the King's children, and even more so those who study the Torah? Just as we must realize our own importance, we must understand the importance of our fellow Jews.
MOTHER'S DAY AND WIFE'S DAY - EVERY DAY OF THE YEAR
Just as we must strive to perform more and more mitzvoth in the realm of "bein adam laMakom" "between man and Hashem", we must also strive to perform mitzvoth and acts of chesed towards our fellow Jew. We have spoken about the importance of seeing the greatness of every Jew, this applies especially when speaking of the relationship between husband and wife. The marital bond must be based on mutual love and respect. They must constantly strive to make the other person happy. I saw a sign in the hall reminding the boys that Sunday was Mother's Day. In Judaism we don't have one Mother's Day - there are 365 Mother's Days. Every day is also Wife's Day. Obviously women must also strive to be good to their husbands, but I am now speaking to a group of future husbands. A man must appreciate all that his wife does for him, including giving him the greatest gift anyone can give another - children.
Last week I had the privilege of delivering a sicha to our second year students on the topic of Sholom Bayit - creating peace and harmony between man and wife. We mentioned, among other topics, that there is much written in Chazal about a man having to honor his wife. Shir HaShirim is an allegory of the love between Hashem and Knesset Yisrael written as a love between man and wife. This means that the man, from this perspective, should follow in the ways of Hashem by showing unbridled love to his wife. Hashem only gives - he does not take anything for Himself. Certainly there is so much that the wife gives the husband, including the most precious gift of all - his children, and there is nothing wrong if the husband accepts. However, as much as he possibly is able, he should have a desire to give.
How does Hashem feel about the Jewish people? After Bnei Yisrael crossed Yam Suf en route to the desert, their bitachon having already undergone several difficult trials which they passed - one of these tests took place while still in Egypt: "the Children of Israel journeyed from Rameses to Sukkot ... nor had they made provisions for themselves" (Shmot 12:37-39). Rashi writes: "this tells the praise of Israel, that they did not say 'how can we go out to the wilderness without provisions?' rather they believed and went" (Rashi Shmot 12:39). Almost one thousand years later, when Hashem was about to destroy the Beit HaMikdash as a result of the people's sins, Hashem recalls this faith: "I remember for your sake the kindness of your youth, the love of your bridal days, how you followed Me in the Wilderness in an unsown land" (Yirmiyahu 2:2).
After all the trials and tribulations, after many infractions by the Jewish nation, Hashem still fondly recalls the beginning of His relationship with the Jewish nation. By the same token we should love our wives as if each day was a recreation of our wedding or engagement. We followed Hashem in the desert, lead by Moshe Rabenu, without food or drink and without knowing what would become of us. By the same token a kallah follows her husband, who is generally still a young bachur, without knowing what life with him will bring. Will he become a talmid chacham? Will he become a successful businessman? The husband must always be grateful that his wife followed him without knowing what was in store for her.
ON THREE THINGS THE WORLD STANDS
The Mishna states: "On three things the world stands: on the Torah, on the Temple service, and on deeds of lovingkindness" (Pirke Avot 1:2). Does the world not stand on the merit of any of the other six hundred and thirteen mitzvoth, why were these three specifically chosen? It seems to me that these are the three primary categories of achieving closeness with Hashem, all other ways may be viewed as subcategories.
Man was created as a tzelem Elokim - in the image of Hashem. This means that we must try to emulate the ways of Hashem as much as possible and in this way to cleave to Him.
TORAH: By studying Torah we become close to Hashem on an INTELLECTUAL level and can gain some insight into His thoughts. We must realize that a human being in no way can comprehend Hashem's thoughts, as the prophet says: "As high as the heavens over the earth, so are My ways higher than your ways, and My thoughts than your thoughts" (Yeshayahu 55:9). When a brilliant scholar, wise in the wisdom of Torah, or lehavdil in the sciences, speaks, we may have difficulty understanding his words due to their profundity, but in the final analysis his thought process is no different than that of other human beings. He thinks in a causal manner - there is a cause and effect. The Gemara asks a question, and therefore provides an answer. Tosafot poses a difficulty and as a result reaches a conclusion. We lead our daily lives in such a manner as well: we are hungry so we go and buy food. Man's life is based on reasoning and logic, but Hashem is above all reason and He is the Reason for all reasons. No cause can require Hashem to do anything, Hashem's thoughts differ totally from our understanding of the term "thought", such that not only are we unable to reach the depths of His understanding, we cannot even attribute the notion of "thought" to Him.
Even someone as great as Moshe with all the Torah that he learned and continues to learn for the past thousands of years in Gan Eden, cannot fully understand the Torah or Hashem's thoughts. Yet Hashem gave us the Torah as a way in which we can get some inkling and come close to Hashem's thoughts.
AVODA: Avoda, or service, is the way in which we approach Hashem EMOTIONALLY. When man brings an offering upon the Altar, he should feel as if it is himself that he is sacrificing. If the offering is a chatat - sin offering, then he feels as if it is himself who deserves to be slaughtered upon the altar. If he is bringing a nedava - a donation, he should wish he could give himself as a gift to Hashem. Avraham Avinu was ready to offer his only son, and would have done so had Hashem not prevented him: "do not stretch out your hand against the lad" (Bereishit 22:12). If Avraham Avinu was not permitted to offer his son, then we certainly cannot permit any form of human sacrifice. Instead, Hashem gave us the possibility of bringing animals, fowl, or Mincha offerings. We should feel, however, the desire to be ourselves sacrificed upon the Altar.
Today, we are no longer able to offer sacrifices. We try to achieve that same closeness to the A-lmighty through our prayers. We have a tremendous opportunity to stand before Hashem three times a day and to speak to Him - as a son stands before his father. We thank Him for all the good He has given us, and request that He will continue to shower us with good - with wisdom, repentance, forgiveness, redemption, and whatever we may need. We have an incredible opportunity, to bless Hashem one hundred times a day! It is known that people travel great distances to receive the bracha of a Rebbe or talmid chacham. This is only done on rare occasions such as prior to the Yamim Noraim, or for a shidduch, etc. In our case, Hashem lowers Himself, so to speak, to us - the dust of the earth. One hundred times daily He belittles Himself in order to receive our bracha. This is an incredible opportunity for closeness. We should desire to extend our prayers longer and longer, rather than attempt to conclude them in the quickest way possible. We are unable to spend our entire day in prayer, for we are obligated to study Torah as well. If we had the opportunity, however: "if only it were that man spend the entire day in prayer" (Brachot 21a). If we are unable to pray all day, the least we should do is make sure we do not daydream during the little time we are able to spend in prayer.
GEMILLUT CHASSADIM: Gemillut Chassadim is the way we cleave to Hashem through our ACTIONS. We have said that we cannot apply the idea of causality when speaking of Hashem, yet our minds can only follow a line of reasoning. When we attempt to explain the reason Hashem created the world, we must say that it was to provide good for all His creations. Hashem "searched" for whom to provide this good, and because no one existed yet, He had to create the world - beginning with the administering angels and ending with man, vegetation, insects, and the rest of the creation. "Hashem is good to all, His mercies are on all His works" (Tehillim 145:9) - each element of creation serves a purpose and can receive Hashem's goodness. The more a person gives the closer he comes to Hashem and the more he takes, the more he distances himself from Him.
GIVING FOR THE SAKE OF TAKING, TAKING FOR THE SAKE OF GIVING
The following parable from R' Sholom Schwadron zt"l illustrates this point very well: There are two storeowners who are selling the identical goods: The one shopkeeper's sole purpose is a desire to help others, to give his fellow Jews whatever they need, be it challa, meat, fish, etc. If he were to simply hand everything out without accepting any payment in a very short time his supply would be depleted and he would not have the means with which to replenish it. In addition, he needs to be able to survive and feed his family in order to be able to better serve his customers. He has no choice but to accept payment from his customers. The other storeowner is selling the same goods but he is only interested in making a profit and in taking from others. The problem he faces is that if he were to simply hang up a sign "we receive money here", it is doubtful that anyone would enter his store. The only choice he has is to provide goods for his customers so that they should want to pay him.
These two shopkeepers work in an identical fashion - they provide merchandise to customers and take money for it. What a difference, however, is there between the two! The former's taking is a form of giving, for it is only a means by which he can continue to give to others. The latter, on the other hand, gives in order to take - his giving is the means by which he can continue to take from others. The former's business brings him closer to Hashem, because he is following in the ways of the A-mighty, just as He gives but never takes. While with the other shopkeeper, the very same transactions distance him from Hashem because he only takes.
We all need to take from this world, for we cannot live without air, food, clothing, and water. However, we should try to give as much as possible. This applies to every person, certainly to a man and wife. The man (the woman too, but I am speaking here to a group of men) must try his best to be a giver. When each side has a desire to give then this will create peace and harmony in the home, otherwise the sholom bayit is in danger.
We must try as much as possible to emulate the ways of Hashem - to understand that we are created in His image. It is our deeds and mitzvoth which sustain the world. When we act appropriately then with Hashem's help the world will be blessed.