After the dramatic closing of the Book of Leviticus with “The Blessings and the Curses / Consequences”, there’s another chapter we rarely get to; a little appendix, as if the Torah says, oh wait, I have a few notes left here, let’s just put them where no one will see it…
If Genesis and Exodus were books describing G-d acting in the world, Leviticus spells out for us what to do. The first books are a pouring from on high – down, and this one – from down – up. At the very end we look at a person’s value. This is done vis-à-vis what happens is a person takes a vow and needs to redeem themselves at the Temple. This might seem sacrilegious: how can we speak of people’s value when people are created in G-d’s image? When we teach that people are created equally?? Isn’t each of us irreplaceable and therefore, impossible to estimate? How dare the Torah do that?!!
And yet, insurance companies, for example, must deal with this all the time: when paying for certain damages, how much is this or that human being “worth”? Why? How do we figure it out? I might not love or understand all the Torah has to say about this – I don’t know much about “vows” and “Temple calculations”, one reason why we have a whole Talmudic tractate on the issue called Arakhin and coming up in Daf Yomi later in June – but I love that it does dare to speak about it, and offer us two simultaneous scales: each person is equal: “If it is a male from twenty to sixty years of age, the “equivalent is fifty shekels of silver by the sanctuary weight” (Leviticus 27:3). What kind of a man? Wise? Kind? Strong? None of the above? Doesn’t matter. And at the same time, weather this is a free man or slave, might matter. Namely, not the human being but our role within the society.
There are many challenges in this chapter and the tractate, and laws following. I am not saying the scale is perfect or user friendly nowadays. For one, it applies to vows and Temple. But the idea that our worth is made of both who we are as single, unique, individuals, made in G-d’s image being while at the same time, influenced by the world we live in, does resonate. This is maybe the reminder at the end of a book filled with laws: You are one and only; you are an integral part of the whole and the whole does need to be considered. Which way is it? You got it: yes.
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This Sunday, the 28th of Iyar, is Yom Yerushalayim, Jerusalem Day, a day commemorating the reunification of the city in 1967. The midrash tells us that many, many years ago, Shem, the son of Noah suggested that this clear-mountain air city would be called Shalem, wholeness, perfection; while Abraham suggested that this site, chosen by G-d, should have be knowsn as Yir’a, reverence, awe.
G-d, who listened to both decided to combine both names into one, and call the city Yeru-shalem, but then Shem came back all sad: “not enough you put me second, Abraham’s name is longer: mine is 3 letters and his is 4”. G-d decided to rearrange things slightly, making from yir’a – yir’u (which combined the alef and heh into a vav, maintaining their numerical values), so Shem wont be upset. But after he left, G-d decided to add another letter, the letter yod for His name, maybe so we remember our priorities, and so that Yerushalayim will have 7 letters (in Hebrew) like the 7 days of the week, the 7 branches of the menorah, and many more sevens of perfection.
Just this morning, there was a stabbing attack in the city, that struggles to hold holiness and perfection along with the utmost mundane and pained life, of screams and sirens, noisy bulldozers and cranes and buses and light-train and traffic jams and taxi drivers honking through narrow streets; merchants yelling in the open markets where people rush between bins of fresh vegetables, sweet fruits, and colorful spices, avoiding the tahini sauce smeared on the sidewalk; kids running around. And soldiers. And people: religious, secular, Arabs, Jews, tourists, foreigners, locals; countless languages and accents. Talking about peace, perfection and reverence seems absolutely delusional. And yet, a gateway is naturally a place full of hustle and bustle. A place that connects heaven and earth can’t be all heavenly; it must be both. This possibility, now more alive than maybe ever, is what we celebrate.
Shabbat Shalom & a peaceful, joyful Yom Yerushalayim.