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Bechukotai 5765

By: Rav Ari Shames

Our parsha closes off Sefer Vayikra, and on most years it is read as part of the joint Behar- Bechukotai double parsha. It is usually assumed that Behar maps out the Torah's version of a just society, specifically as far as economics is concerned and then, in Bechukotai we are given two possible scenarios as to how the future will play out. In the first, very few pesukim we read how everything will be wonderful assuming that we follow all of the rules and mitzvoth that Hashem has given us, while if we do not comply with the Divine plan we are in for a much longer series of disasters. That is how I remember Vayikra ending.

In fact, that is not the way that the sefer ends. After the conclusion of the tochacha we have an entire perek that sends us back into the type of halachot that we had in the previous parsha. I would like to examine the series of mitzvoth.

The mitzvoth that appear in the final perek are:

Erachin

Temurah

Pidyon Sadot

Charamim

Maaser Behama

In short the list is comprised of a series of mitzvoth that relate to ones property vis a vis Kedusha. It could be that this is the perfect end to the sefer. Vayikra started out with a series of parshiot that dealt with the Mikdash and all of the various halchot concerning the Korbanot (Vayikra, Tzav, Shmini, Tazria, Metzora, Acherei Mot). The second half of the sefer focused on how to set up a just and moral society (Kedoshim, Emor [admittedly this needs a bit of explanation] Behar). The conclusion is in Bechukotai where we find at the very end the cross between ones own personal property and that which is related to some form of Kedusha.

If we take a closer look I think we can notice that the overall tone of the mitzvoth is unique. The list contains (mostly) mitzvoth which have a uniform view of property value regardless of its actual worth. In other words a certain sense of "socialism" or at least "uniformism" is at work. Take for example the halacha of Erachin. If an individual decides to pledge the amount that he or she is worth to the Mikdash we have two different systems to evaluate how much they must pay. One system is known as "Damim" and the other "Erachin". In the "Damim" system we simply appraise the individual as a potential slave and the amount they could be sold for on the slave market is deemed the value that is to be paid to the Mikdash. Whatever qualities the society values in its workforce will influence the value of the individual. Factors such as health, physical fitness etc... would be critical for the equation.

In the system in our parsha the "Erachin" we pay no attention to any factor other than gender and age. A simple chart can be made, and based on these two simple, and seemingly arbitrary, criteria a person's worth is determined. It makes no difference if the individual is fit or bedridden, a genius or mentally incapable of even the simplest of tasks, the value is a set one.

This system of set values regardless of the functional worth of the item repeats itself in pasuk 16 when it comes to redeeming a field that was donated to Hekdesh. Here as well, we have two parallel systems. If one donates a standard field he must pay its actual worth to redeem it. If, however, the field is "Sedei Achuza" the family estate there is a set price per square unit that is used to calculate its value. In this instance the field may be the most fertile or it may be the rockiest and most barren of land, the price is the same.

This lack of "pricing" is also applied, in a slightly different manner, when it comes to Korbanot. In passuk 10 we read of the prohibition of swapping an animal that was set aside as a Korban. If I set aside animal A as a korban I am not to switch it with any other animal. It would seem obvious that the Torah would be against my switching it for an inferior one as this would be a disgrace. However the Torah clearly states that the prohibition is relevant even if the change will result in a better quality animal being brought. We are "not to make a distinction between good and bad".

The same phrase is used at the very end of the perek in passuk 33 where we read that when it comes to Maaser Behama we are to count out the animals, and the tenth is declared Kadosh. We do not care if it is the best animal or if it is one of the weakest in the flock. Once again we see a stress on equality in this arena as well.

Maybe this is the message that we are to leave Sefer Vayikra with. We have a stark contrast with the start of the Sefer. There we read about the Korbanot, specifically those that were meant to be a donation. The Torah starts with the rich man who can afford to bring a cow then moves on to the less fortunate who can only bring a sheep. In the next paragraph we read about the possibility of bringing a bird and finally the option of a meal offering is listed. One clearly gets the impression that there is a descending order of importance.

The end of the Sefer is strikingly different; a sense of socialism and equality in the world of the Mikdash is more prevalent. After we read of the checks and balances in the general fiscal system in Behar the Torah stresses the issue in the realm of the Mikdash in Bechukotai.

Chazal put it very simply in the last Mishna in Menachot:

"It says concerning the animal offering 'a sweet smelling fragrance, and it says concerning the bird offering 'a sweet smelling fragrance', and it says concerning the meal offering 'a sweet smelling fragrance' to teach us that whether one gives a lot or a little it does not matter, provided the intent is to Heaven.

Shabbat Shalom