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Posted on May 26, 2022 (5782) By Rabbi Yitzchok Adlerstein | Series: | Level:

If he redeems it, he must add a fifth to its valuation.[2]

Rashi puts it simply. “The Torah was strict with the owner, obligating him to add on a fifth” to redeem it. He shows that this holds for the redemption of a house, a field, and maaser sheni. The owner is always saddled with a surcharge, while a third party who redeems any of those items does so according to its actual assessed value.

What does the Torah have against owners? Doesn’t reason dictate the opposite? A third party who redeems a sanctified animal, house, or field engages essentially in a commercial transaction. It makes sense that when purchasing from the Temple Estate, he will pay a premium in deference to the holiness of hekdesh. An owner, however, took the meritorious step of donating to the Temple – of consecrating his property and removing it from the mundane, commercial world and elevating it to the holy. Shouldn’t he deserve a break?

Upon reflection, the answer is a resounding “no!” Unlike the third-party purchaser, the owner previously moved to higher spiritual ground: he was a makdish, someone who voluntarily took his property and invested it with kedushah. Because of that, when he seeks to redeem the hekdesh he created, we expect him to continue to be a makdish – to spread kedushah to still more places, like the additional fifth that he is required to give to hekdesh.

We find a similar idea elsewhere. Chazal tell us[3] that one who begins a mitzvah and fails to complete it will bury his wife and children. Why should a person who at least performed part of a mitzvah be treated more harshly than one who performed none of it? The explanation is the same. Once he rose to the occasion, and saw fit to devote himself to a mitzvah, Hashem demands of him that he not allow his inspiration and elevation to die a sudden death. He is obligated to savor it and nurture it, and push on till the task is completed.

A Jew who is meticulous about 612 mitzvos and ignores one will be punished. A non-Jew who ignores (almost) all of them is not punished. Why? Because the Torah places responsibility upon a person according to his discernment. A Jew is endowed with spiritual abilities that beget many responsibilities. As Rabbenu Bachya put it,[4] “Whomever Hashem showers with special favor, He obligates in more avodah.”

This thinking is what is behind Chazal’s teaching,[5] “According to a camel is its load.” According to how much of a burden the camel can bear is the load that will be placed upon it. This is an important principle throughout the Torah.

  1. Based on Daas Torah by Rav Yeruchem Levovitz zt”l, Vayikra pg. 285
  2. Vayikra 27:13
  3. Bereishis Rabbah 85:3
  4. Chovos Halevavos, Avodas HaElokim, chap. 6
  5. Kesubos 67aP