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The Value of Time, The Value of a Human Being

May 19, 2011

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.


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 irrespective of whether or not the land is fertile.


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.


We see from the concluding portion of our parsha that the spiritual value is infinite.  There is no price we could possibly pay for the Torah we are about to receive on Shavuot - every mitzvah, every word of Torah is priceless.  Because every word of Torah is priceless, then every moment which could be spent learning Torah is priceless.  The Americans have an expression "time is money".  I would venture to say that they are mistaken - time is not money, time is life.  A person who feels time is money is one who feels that life is money.   Life is not about money, life is about ruchniyut, coming closer to Hashem.  We have often cited the Chafetz Chaim's calculation that a person can learn approximately 200 words of Torah per minute.  If one moment of Torah has infinite value, imagine the value of 200 times that one word. 


We must value our time and realize how much potential we have to accomplish and what a terrible thing it is to waste.  Having the opportunity to study Torah and electing instead to pursue other interests is the greatest accusation that can be leveled against a person.   Chazal tell us that "For he scorned the word of Hashem" (Bamidbar 15:31), refers to "one who can be involved in Torah and does not do so" (Sanhedrin 99a).  The pasuk continues "That person will surely be cut off, his sin is upon him" (Bamidbar 15:31) - "he will be cut off in this world and the next world" (Sanhedrin 99a).   Why should he be cut off from the Next World?  He, after all, did not violate the Shabbat, he did not eat non-kosher food, and he did not take that which belongs to others. 


He showed that the Torah is insignificant in his eyes.  Imagine two piles of paper before you, one of $100 bills and one of plain paper.  If you were to ignore the bundle of $100 bills and opt for the paper you would be mocking the value of the dollar. (This in particular does not really concern me, this is America's problem.)  If, however, one has pearls before him - the pearls given to us by Hashem - the Torah, and rather than taking it he wastes his time on nonsense, this is "scorning the word of Hashem",


Perhaps we count the days leading up to Matan Torah to teach us the value of time, to appreciate how much can be accomplished in each day.  We can appreciate the Torah much more when we understand the value of time and how many mitzvoth we can fulfill during that time. 


Rashi opens his commentary on the Torah by stating that the Torah really should have begun with the first mitzvah given to the Jewish nation: "hachodesh hazeh lachem", rather than "Bereishit bara Elokim".  Why is the commandment to sanctify the first month of Nisan an appropriate place to begin the Torah?   This mitzvah gives the Jewish people dominion over time - the Beit Din determines whether or not today is Rosh Chodesh and whether or not this year is a leap year.  Our determination of time is an appropriate place to begin with.


In our Yom Tov Kiddush and tefillot we recite the bracha of mekadesh Yisrael vehazmanim, as opposed to Shabbat when we simply say mekadesh haShabbat without mentioning Yisrael.  In fact when Yom Tov falls on Shabbat we say mekadesh haShabbat veYisrael vehazmanim - the Jewish people sanctify time and it is they who by determining when Rosh Chodesh is ultimately determine what day is Pesach and other Yom Tovim.  Shabbat, on the other hand, is every seven days independent of any involvement of the Jewish nation. 


Yirat Shamayim requires understanding that we are servants of Hashem and that our time is sanctified to Him. The Torah tells us, "For the children of Israel are servants to Me, they are My servants" (Vayikra 25:55).   The Gemara deduces from this pasuk that the Jewish people are "not servants of servants" (Kiddushin 22b).  The sixth chapter of Baba Metzia discusses the halacha that "a worker can withdraw from his employment even in the middle of the day." (Baba Metzia 77a).   The Gemara limits this halacha to a worker and not a contractor. The distinction between a worker and a contractor is that a worker is paid for his time. A contractor, on the other hand, is paid for the job. If a landowner were to hire someone to plow his field at the rate of one hundred shekels per day, he would be hiring a worker. If he were to offer him one hundred and fifty shekels for the entire job, regardless of the amount of time it takes, he would be hiring a contractor. A contractor may not suddenly decide in the middle of the job not to complete it, and if he does so, the owner is under no obligation to compensate him, even for work he has completed thus far. A worker, on the other hand, who terminates his employment in the middle of the contract, even though he had committed himself to working an additional day, week, or month must be compensated for work performed until that point. The Torah does not wish us to sell our time, for time is consecrated for service of Hashem. We are servants of Hashem and not of other servants. The Torah does not forbid earning an hourly wage, but it appears from the Gemara that it is preferable to be paid for the job, for time should be Kodesh laHashem.


If a businessman or even a contractor, (who is not paid for his time) decided to take out a sefer and learn Torah while he was plowing the field or the equivalent, it would not be considered stealing. Of course, he would have to keep careful watch to make sure the ox did not stray off the path while he was deliberating the pshat in a difficult Tosafos. If he did, he would be stealing from his employer by not properly performing the job he has been hired to do. His time, however, remains Kodesh laHashem. A hired worker, on the other hand, who has sold his time that should have been sanctified for Hashem, to the owner -is forbidden to learn Torah on the job.


The owner or contractor, who comes home after a hard day's work and opens the Gemara, understands the sanctity of time. Clearly some time is required for sleeping, eating, and davening Maariv, but a significant amount of time must also be devoted to learning Torah. A person who spends his day in this fashion has spent his entire day the way a Jew is required to. If, however, after a hard day's work, the only thing he can think about is the newspaper or that unmentionable appliance, then he has not sanctified any of his time. Either he feels that he is boss over his own time or that his time is totally hefker. In either case he has certainly not sanctified his time to Hashem! He becomes accountable for his entire day - he can no longer claim that he did not learn during the day because he needed to earn a living, for he did not avail himself of even the little opportunity he did have to learn. One who has other obligations or extenuating circumstances and thus cannot learn or perform mitzvos, is absolved of the requirement. If, however, the opportunity should arise later and he still does not take advantage of it, it shows that his real reason for not learning previously was because "he prefers a life without restraint" (Ketubot 11a) - even if he had not been required to work, he would have wasted his time.


We must be grateful that we are servants of Hashem: ashrenu ma tov chelkenu uma naim goralenu uma yafa yerushatenu "we are fortunate - how good is our portion, how pleasant our lot, and how beautiful our heritage!"  We are happy to be servants of Hashem, the Torah is not a heavy burden.  We have a chance for greatness.  I was once asked by someone at what point we can stop learning.  I responded that Moshe Rabenu lived until age 120, when we reach the level of Moshe Rabenu then we will be able to stop learning.  We must strive to grow in Torah, we must enjoy the Yom Tov of Shavuot and appreciate what makes us different from all the other nations.  Mitzvoth are precious gifts - Shabbat is described by Chazal as a matana tova.


"Everyone agrees that on Shavuot we require 'lachem' for you" (a person is obligated to rejoice with food and drink) (Pesachim 68b).  Even R' Eliezer who is of the opinion that other Yom Tovim may be observed "kulo laHashem" - all for Hashem.  This means that a person may spend the entire Yom Tov in the Beit Midrash learning Torah.  When it comes to Shavuot, however, R' Eliezer acknowledges that there "lachem" is also necessary - to show that we are rejoicing at having received the Torah.   Although "the Mitzot were not given for the pleasure of the Jewish people, that their fulfillment brings them pleasure, they were rather given as a burden around their neck" (Rashi to Rosh Hashana 28a), yet this burden is sweeter than honey - one we are very happy to have.  For this reason, it has become customary to eat milk and honey on Shavuot to show that the Torah is sweeter than milk and honey (see Mishna Brura 444:13).  We accept this burden of the Torah with love.  Although at first the Torah may appear bitter, as we mentioned last week, after a period of time we see and feel that the Torah is indeed sweeter than honey!


The Torah is a precious gift which we thank Hashem for by making a bracha before learning, as we do before any mitzvah to indicate our gratitude.  May we grow in Torah and may we merit the building of the Beit HaMikdash to enable us to fulfill associated with Shavuot which we are unable to fulfill today, speedily in our day. Amen.

Venue: Yeshivat Netiv Aryeh Yeshivat Netiv Aryeh


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