“Pat, I’d Like to Buy a Vow”: Behukotai 2016

by Adam J. Rosenbaum

Leadoff Chatter: They say that money can’t buy love, yet that doesn’t stop many of us from spending great sums in the hopes of finding satisfaction of one sort or another. What are some of the most common ways that we spend in search of happiness? What are some of the most egregious ways?

Our Torah portion this week informs us that there are various monetary charges to making certain vows to God.

The Pitch: “Speak to the Israelite people and say to them: When anyone explicitly vows to Adonai the equivalent for a human being, the following scale shall apply: If it is a male from twenty to sixty years of age, the equivalent is fifty shekels of silver by the sanctuary weight; if it is a female, the equivalent is thirty shekels.” (Leviticus 27:2-4)

Swing #1: “The book of Vayikra teaches us our duty to the Sanctuary of the Torah. We are to symbolize through offerings and to realize in practice the sanctification of our lives as individuals and as a nation. And, finally, the preceding chapter states that the [laws] – which tell us what we must do in order to hallow our lives as individuals and as a nation – are the sole intermediaries of the covenant between ourselves and God, and the sole means for assuring our welfare. Scripture now adds a concluding chapter on voluntary donations to the Sanctuary. A person feels the need or has the desire to give to the Sanctuary an object or its equivalent value, in order to demonstrate his special interest in the Sanctuary, or to signify the special relationship that – in his view – exists between the object and the Sanctuary.” – Samson Raphael Hirsch

Swing #2: “We are all under obligation to keep those commitments that our ancestors made en masse. It is interesting to note that even before the Torah was given, we were bound to our word. After all, it is only since the Torah tells us that we must keep our word, that we indeed must do so, right? So what binds us to the Torah then; what is it that forced us to keep our promise to keep the Torah? Even before the Torah was given, we had to keep our word.” – Rabbi Elchanan Shoff, Paradise: Breathtaking Strolls Through the Length and Breadth of Torah 

Swing #3: “This final chapter is best regarded as an appendix to Leviticus focusing on a variety of laws pertaining to voluntary offerings and taxed obligations to the sanctuary. Perhaps these monetary issues, necessary for the maintenance of the sanctuary but not altogether agreeable for the audience of the book to contemplate, were deliberately tacked on at the very end.” – Robert Alter, The Five Books of Moses: A Translation With Commentary 

Late-Inning Questions: Is talking about monetary policy for the Tabernacle a fitting way to conclude the book of Leviticus? Is it there to teach us the importance of keeping our word? Is it there to symbolically show a connection between a person’s life and the validity of the Tabernacle? Can a person’s worth ever be quantified monetarily? In what ways, if any, is spending money a representation of our values and our commitments?

On Deck at Emanu-El: One of my goals this summer is to make our Adult Education program to reach as many people as possible. Our most recent congregational survey told us that the vast majority of our congregation wishes to learn more about our Jewish heritage, yet only a small percentage attend our classes. I’d like to fix that by offering classes that interest YOU at times that are convenient for YOU. To that end, I invite you to attend one of our upcoming Adult Education Parlor Meetings to share your thoughts about how and when you’d like to learn with us. These meetings will take place Thursday, June 16th at 7:00PM; Wednesday, June 22nd at 6:00PM; and Sunday, June 26th at 10:00AM.

The Big Inning at the End: This year, we are facing one of the ultimate tests in American democracy. Yes, there are the presidential elections; but I’m actually referring to the voting for the Major League Baseball All-Star Game. If the election were to end today, the entire National League starting infield would be Chicago Cubs. While that would certainly make me happy, it doesn’t mean this is the best way to recognize the best players in the game. Should the All-Star Game be a simple democracy and a popularity contest, or should managers, players, or baseball writers be in charge of selecting the teams?

Shabbat Shalom!