SALT - Monday, 17 Iyar 5780 - May 11, 2020

  • Rav David Silverberg
This week's SALT shiurim are dedicated in memory of
David Moshe ben Harav Yehuda Leib Silverberg z"l,
whose yahrzeit is Tuesday 18 Iyar, May 12
            Towards the end of Parashat Bechukotai, the Torah discusses the laws of arakhin – a particular type of pledge that a person could make, vowing to give to the Temple treasury the “value” of a given individual.  If a person makes such a pledge, pronouncing that he will donate the “value” of a certain individual whom he names, then he is obligated to give the sum stipulated by the Torah here for that individual’s gender and age group.  These amounts likely stem from the relative amounts for which people of different genders and age groups would have been sold as servants.
            The Midrash (Vayikra Rabba 37:2) traces the concept of arakhin back to the period of Benei Yisrael’s enslavement in Egypt, specifically, to the time when Moshe, who was raised in Pharaoh’s palace, left the palace to observe the plight of his oppressed brethren.  The Torah tells in Sefer Shemot (2:11) that Moshe went out to see Benei Yisrael’s suffering, and the Midrash adds that Moshe not only observed their hardship, but also tried to help them.  He saw how the Egyptians had assigned to members of Benei Yisrael jobs which were not appropriate for them, as heavy loads appropriate for strong men were placed upon women, and loads appropriate for young men were placed upon the backs of older men.  Moshe intervened by rearranging the different loads so that each slave was carrying a burden appropriate for him or her.  The Midrash relates that God then announced to Moshe, “You arranged My children’s burdens for them – by your life, you will in the future sit and explain to My children their vows, [the differences] between a man and a woman, between an adult and a child, between a young person and an elderly person.”  Just as Moshe distinguished between different groups of people to ensure that each received appropriate work responsibilities, the Torah similarly distinguished between different groups of people with respect to arakhin pledges.
            By connecting the laws of arakhin to Moshe’s compassionate assistance to the slaves in Egypt, the Midrash perhaps reveals us to the underlying moral message of the institution of arakhin – namely, that different kinds of people have different sets of skills and capabilities.  The assigning of different “values” to different groups of people most definitely does not imply that some are “worth” more than others.  Rather, as the Midrash teaches by linking this section of laws to Moshe’s efforts in Egypt, this system expresses the fact that different types of people have different kinds of abilities, and so they must not be given the same “burdens.”  The institution of arakhin teaches that our expectations of other people must be determined based on each individual’s abilities, and we must avoid expecting more than those abilities.  It tells us to acknowledge that people’s different strengths and weaknesses make them better suited for certain tasks than others, and to respect these differences.  And it urges us to learn from Moshe’s example to ensure not to impose unreasonable burdens of expectation, and to instead demand from other people no more than can reasonably be expected based on their nature and circumstances.