03 Jun 2016

Behukotai 5776: Strings Attached

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Behukotai 5776: Strings Attached

We should give as we would receive, cheerfully, quickly, and without hesitation; for there is no grace in a benefit that sticks to the fingers.

— Seneca

As we close the book of Vayikra with the reading of Perashat Behukotai a covenant is sealed between G-d and Israel for the generations.

I will place my dwelling in your midst…I will walk among you, I will be for you a God and you will be for me as a people. (25:11-13)

Yet, curiously, the book does not end with the sealing of this covenant. It ends with rules of Temura, literally meaning ‘in lieu’, which deal with gifts made to G-d that one wishes to exchange. When one gives a tithe or a gift of a particular animal to G-d the animal must not be exchanged either for a higher or lower quality animal. Once a gift is given it may no longer be adjusted by the giver. If one attempts to do so, a penalty is imposed: not only is the original gift considered sanctified, the proposed replacement gift becomes sanctified too with both reverting to being ‘sanctified property’.

If it is an animal from which they bring near an offering for G-d…he is not to substitute for it and he is not to exchange it, good for ill or ill for good. If they exchange animal for animal, it and its exchanged one will (both become) a holy portion. (27:10)[1]

It is surely understandable that if one had less than favourable motives and regretted giving such a high quality gift that a penalty would be imposed for trying to exchange it for a lesser quality one. But why the penalty for the exchange in the other direction? Would it not be deemed positive that a person who, feeling more generous, wished to replace an original gift with a higher quality one?

The issue here is not the gift as much as the motive. The very thought of being able to exchange a gift that has already been given insinuates that it was never a gift at all. The point of giving a gift to someone is to show care or love to the one who is receiving it. The true value of a gift is not in its price but in the thoughtfulness that was behind giving it. When a true gift is given it is as an expression of care in which the giver finds joy when the gift is graciously received.

But we do not always give such altruistic gifts. There are times when the giving of a gift may have ulterior motives — even when the gifts are offered to G-d.

Maimonides addresses this question in his Mishne Torah and suggests that the penalty is imposed regardless of the reason or quality of the exchange. It is the very idea that one could exchange that is the problem:

Here the Torah got to the bottom of one’s evil inclination. It is in one’s nature to be concerned with one’s money and although one might have made a vow and made a sanctified offering, one is liable to regret having done so and attempt to exchange it for one of lesser value…and if permission is granted to exchange any of the gifts the opening is made to exchange in such an inferior way. Therefore, a penalty was imposed for any attempt to manipulate the gift.[2]

A gift that one can exchange, withdraw or use for manipulative purposes is one that is motivated by control. We might use the fact that we have given something to someone to gain a controlling element over them or a situation. A gift that is genuine, however, is truly given out of care and admiration for the receiver. Once it is given, it leaves the domain of the giver and becomes the receiver’s completely.

The book of Vayikra ends teaching us that in relationships of true care and covenant we relinquish selfish needs and control and instead engage in mutual support and cultivation. When, in such bonds, we wish to offer something to those with whom we share it, we do so with generosity, altruism and the desire to bring them happiness. When giving a true gift the greatest joy is when it leaves our hands.

Shabbat Shalom

Rabbi Joseph Dweck

[1] See also 27:32-34.

[2] Mishne Torah, Hilkhot Temura, 4:13.

Law and Lore

Aliyot for Children

The Talmud[1] states that a child under the age of bar mitsvah may be called to the Torah as one of the seven ‘olim’ on Shabbat. This is indeed halakha[2] and a child may be called for one of these aliyot.

However, it is not clear from the Talmud whether a child could be called to the Torah on other occasions when there are less than 7 aliyot. It is understood from the Rambam’s treatment of the Talmud’s statement[3] that a child may go up for an aliya for any public reading, even on Mondays and Thursdays and for Minha of Shabbat when only 3 people are called.

Maran, Rav Yoseph Karo in his Bet Yoseph[4] also seems to concur with this reading of the Talmud.

There are other authorities, mainly from a kabbalistic approach[5], who disagree and prohibit a child from having an aliya on Mondays and Thursdays. However, when necessary, we rely on the halakhic authorities who permit this. This is especially the case when a boy is close to the age of bar mitzvah and is wrapping tephilin on a Monday or Thursday morning in celebration of his bar mitzvah prior to his 13th birthday. In such a case it is permitted for the boy to have an aliya as one of the 3 olim [6].

[1] Megilla, 23a.

[2] Mishne Torah, Hilkhot Tefila, 12:17; Shulhan Arukh, 282:3.

[3] Mishne Torah, Hilkhot Tefila, 12:16-17 and in his responsum (Freiman, Jerusalem), 34.

[4] Bet Yoseph, 135 based on the words of Rabbenu Yeroham that in a city with only Cohanim, the cohen reads two

aliyot and then the rest of the aliyot are filled by women and children.

[5] See Hida, Birkei Yoseph, 282:5

[6] Rabbi Obadia Yoseph, Hazon Obadia, Shabbat II, p.245.

Parasha Perspectives

X Bechukotai

51                Blessings for obedience  (26:3-13)
All land based:  Seasonal rain, successful produce, plenty
of bread, satisfaction, safety, peace.
Enemies will flee. Covenantal relationship.
52a              Results of disobedience – Part One: Sickness,
defeat, famine and wild beasts  (26:14-26)
Terror, consumption, fever, failed produce, enemies
attack, lose independence. Covenantal revenge,
pestilence, lack of bread, no satisfaction.
52b              Results of disobedience – Part Two: National
destruction and exile.  But…  (26:27-46)
Eat human flesh, destroy idols, destroy cities, desolate
land, scattered exile, Shabbatot repaid, no rest, constant
fear and almost die out. (26:27-41)
Remember covenant, and land. Covenant will not be
broken. These are the laws. (26:42-46)
53a              Evaluation of a personal vow  (27:1-8)
Age:       20-60       20-60       5-20         5-20
Sex:          M           F               M             F
Value:    50sh         30sh         20sh         10sh

Age:       1mth.-5     1mth.-5     60+          60+
Sex:          M           F               M             F
Value:    5sh         3sh           15sh        10sh
If too poor, Kohen makes valuation according to means.
53b              Redemption of animals, land, firstborn and the
tithe from the Mishkan  (27:9-34)
Animals – value plus a fifth. House – value plus a fifth.
Land – value (to yovel) plus a fifth.
Firstborn – value plus a fifth, or sold according to value.
Inalienable property of Mishkan. Redeem tithe – value
plus a fifth.
“These are the mitzvot which God commanded Moshe for the
                     Bnei Yisrael at
 Taken from, ‘Torah for Everyone’ by Rabbi Dr Raphael Zarum, Dean of LSJS