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Parsha Perspectives: A Change in Value (Bechukosai)

And the Lord spoke to Moses, saying, “Speak to the children of Israel and say to them: When a man expresses a vow, [pledging the] value of lives to the Lord …” (Vayikra 26:1-2) 

Sefer Vayikra ends with a discussion of “erech” (valuation) vows. A person has the ability to pledge their “value” to the Temple. The Torah provides an objective framework based on age and gender, irrespective of a person’s abilities, profession, or skill set. 

Why is this the concluding message of Vayikra? Furthermore, why this section after the jarring section of the “tochecha,” the list of curses for non-compliance with the will of Hashem? Lastly, a technical question; the verses state: “The [fixed] value of a male shall be as follows: From twenty years old until sixty years old, the value is fifty silver shekels, according to the holy shekel … And if [the person is] sixty years old or over, if it is a male, the value shall be fifteen shekels … (Vayikra 26:3,7) 

Why this significant change in value? A man above the age of sixty loses close to two-thirds of the value he possessed between the age of 20-60. How are we to understand this change? 

The Imrei Emes (Rabbi Avraham Mordechai Alter, Rebbe of the Hasidic dynasty of Ger, 1866-1948) explains this entire dynamic. The “tochecha” represents the result of bad decisions. If our nation chooses to ignore the will of God, if we choose lifestyles which do not promote holiness, growth, and elevation, unfortunately, there are consequences. Every action has a reaction and as part of our covenantal relationship with Hashem, there are expectations. One may have thought that once I make such poor decisions which lead me to “tochecha” results, perhaps, I have lost my value. Perhaps, after so many wrong turns, I have divested myself of my personalistic kedusha. Therefore, the Torah comes and teaches us the section of “erech” vows. The entire message of this section is that every person has an intrinsic value. We each have a worth. Even if we make mistakes, bad decisions, fall and fail, we possess holiness and godliness within. From the time a baby is 30 days old until one draws his last breath, (s)he has value. This inherent value, this erech value, is rooted in our ability to effect change within the self. Our innate value is directly related to our ability to change. The power of change is the greatest gift God has given us. No matter what I have or have not done, I can become someone better and holier. Change is always possible – no matter when, no matter where. However, the reality is that the older we get, the more set in our ways we become, and the more difficult change becomes. As we get older, change is still possible, it just may not be as probable. My personal “value” is fundamentally linked to my ability to change. Therefore, the individual between 20-60, representing the period of full vigor and vitality, has the highest value because his ability and probability of change is greatest. Once the individual is over sixty, the ability for change is still present, but the danger of becoming set in one’s ways is a bit more pronounced and as such the erech value of this individual decreases.  

In this last lesson of Sefer Vayikra, God conveys to us, His beloved children, that we each have value. Too often, we assume that our mistakes and missteps deprive us of worth. However, there is nothing further from the truth. We each have incredible value until we draw our last breath. The way to actualize and amplify your personal worth is to tap into the gift of change. But you must be ever aware of the danger of letting too much time pass by before you make the changes that need to be made. The older and more set in our ways we become, the harder it is. If change needs to be made – make it now.  

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