Rabbi Eliyahu Hoffmann
A Worth-While Study Into Human Nature
The majority of parshas Bechukosai is devoted to the Tochacha/Admonition,
in which the Almighty warns the Jewish nation that if they fail to live up
to their obligations, they will become the victims of great calamities and
harsh punishments, Rachmana litzlan.
Immediately following the Tochacha, the Torah describes the laws of Erchin,
which determine what happens if someone pledges the value of another
individual to the Holy Temple. In a nutshell, if someone's value is pledged
to the Beis Ha-Mikdash (either by themselves or by someone else), there is
a standard amount which must be given, corresponding to the person's age
and gender. For instance, the erech, or standard value of a Jewish male
between the ages of 20 and 60 is fifty shekels. It doesn't make a
difference whether the individual whose worth was pledged was a brain
surgeon, a Rosh Yeshiva, or a street-sweeper, the amount donated is
dependent only on age and gender.
Why do the laws of Erchin follow the Tochacha?
The K'li Yakar, addressing this question, makes reference to a most unusual
Gemara (Chagiga 5a):
"'And it shall be, that when many evils and troubles come upon [this
nation]... (Devarim/Deuteronomy 31:21)' Shmuel says [this verse] refers to
one who lends money to the poor in his time of need."
Ha-levai, would it only be, writes the K'li Yakar, that the worst tzures
ever to befall a Jew were that he loaned money to a poor man in his time of
need! What could Shmuel possibly mean by explaining that this is the "evil"
and "trouble" to which the Torah refers?
Unfortunately, he writes, it is human nature that as long as the sailing is
smooth, and life is humming along as one might hope it should, we tend to
ignore many aspects of life that in truth deserve our greatest attention.
If one were to hear of a close friend or family member who had, G-d forbid,
fallen deathly ill, he would no doubt begin making generous donations to
tzedaka on his behalf, in whose merit one hopes the sick might warrant a
speedy recovery. If there were ever a time for teshuva (repentance), this
The afflicted himself would likely spend many hours in deep introspection.
He would ponder what he had accomplished in life thus far, and what he
would still like to do if Hashem would grant him additional years. "If I
pull through this," he promises, "I won't waste my days like I have in the
past on amassing wealth and indulging my body. I will spend more time
learning with my children; I will daven slower instead of rushing through;
I will give more money to tzedaka..." Isn't it a crying shame, he writes,
that it took all this just to get a man to have a few earnest thoughts of
repentance and introspection.
It is this sorry fact, he explains, that the Torah is alluding to when,
immediately following the Admonition, it imparts the laws of pledges to the
Temple. Sadly, it is often the troubles in life that awaken us from our
habitual slumber to increase our charity and examine our mitzvos, instead
of doing so while the going is good.
And this is what Shmuel meant when he said that the verse which describes
the "evil" and "trouble" that will befall the nation refers to one who
lends to the poor in his time of need. Not the poor man's time of need, as
one would normally understand, but rather in his own time of need. I.e. the
tzures is that he only thought to give generously and lend whole-heartedly
after calamities befell him, and he realized it was either "do or die" in
quite a literal sense.
The Beis Yisroel (R' Avraham Mordechai of Gur zt"l) offers a most beautiful
explanation of the connection between the Tochacha and the laws of Erchin.
He quotes the verses that introduce Erchin (27:1-2):
Hashem spoke to Moshe saying: Speak to the Children of Israel and say to
them: If a man pledges a vow regarding the worth of human beings to Hashem.
Notice how the Torah juxtaposes the phrase "human beings" and Hashem.
Grammatically, it would have been more correct to write, "If a man pledges
a vow to Hashem regarding the worth of human beings." What the Torah is
saying, he explains, is that even though the parsha here refers to people
who have gone through all sorts of punishments and admonitions which befell
them as a direct result of their sins (this is clear from the Torah), all
the same they are still "nefashos l'Hashem" - souls bound up with a G-dly
bond. With all that has come upon them, they are still loved and cherished
I believe therein lies a most exceptional insight for parents, educators,
and anyone who has to (as we all do at times) admonish, criticize, or even
punish another human being. While it is a Torah requirement to reprimand
one who has transgressed, and if need be administer punishment, it is a
great error to allow the punished to feel that he has, by means of his
transgressions, lost favour in your eyes. Punishment and criticism are for
most people a bitter enough pill to swallow. Still, the human psyche is
strong, and usually after the initial resentment, its recipient will
eventually get over his feelings of bitterness, and perhaps even use the
criticism as a springboard for growth and change (which was indeed its
intent in the first place). But if the person (this is especially true with
regard to children and adolescents) feels that "all is lost", and that my
parent/teacher/mentor has given up on me, then what point is there to even
try to do better next time - they no longer respect me anyway.
A teacher once told me: "Even when I get very upset at a student; even when
I've had to punish him severely, and inside I'm burning at his lack of
derech eretz (manners), I still smile at him and tell him "A gitten tug"
before he leaves my classroom. I know tomorrow he'll be back, and even
though today was a total failure, tomorrow is another day, and hopefully a
better one. But if he thinks that I've given up on him, why should he even
bother trying harder tomorrow?"
If Hashem, Who sees all and knows all, still associates His holy Name with
a Jew, no matter how far he's fallen, and no matter how severely he's been
censured, then us mortals can always find place in our hearts to give
others another chance. Amazing how, in its description of "the laws of
human worth," the Torah has indeed given us such a critical and penetrating
insight into the concept of human worth!
Have a good Shabbos.
Sponsored by R' Duvid Yitzchak and R' Yehuda Aryeh D'ancona, in
memory of their mother, Rivkah bas R' Yehudah Aryeh Rabinovitch.
Text Copyright © 2003 Rabbi Eliyahu Hoffmann and Project Genesis, Inc.