Bechukosai-Measure for Measure: Exactitude

Just as people may vow to contribute a specific amount of money to the Holy Temple, so too one may vow to contribute the value of oneself or of another person or thing. One of the ways to do this is called erechin or valuation. The end of this week’s Torah portion of Bichukosai describes in great length the mitzvah of erechin. The Torah placed set values to be contributed based on age and gender. The Rabbeinu Bachye (Vayikra 27:2) quoting a Medrish Tanchuma (Bichukosai paragraph 6) says: “G-D said to the Jews, ‘If you bring before me your value, I will consider it as if you sacrificed your souls before me.” Hashem also said to the Jews, ‘In the merit of erechin I will save you from the depths of Gehinnom.’”
The Medrish Rabba (Bechukosai, parsha 37, paragraph 2) has an interesting twist on a well-known story about Moshe Rabbeinu: “‘For the actions of man He will pay back to him (Job 34).’ This refers to Moshe as it is written, ‘And it was in those days, Moshe grew up and he went out to his brethren and saw their plight (Shemos 2).’ What did he see? He saw men doing women’s jobs, women doing men’s jobs, children doing jobs for adults, and old men doing jobs young men should be doing. He sat and thought and returned to them the proper jobs, men for men, women for women, adult, children, young men, elders all got jobs according to what was normal for them to have. Hashem said to him ‘you straightened out the plight of my children, I swear you will in the future sit and explain to my children their vows according to the worth of man, woman, adult, child, young man, or elder. Therefore the Torah states (Vayikra 27:1,2) ‘Hashem spoke to Moshe saying: Speak to the Children of Israel, a man who wants to declare a vow of the value of your soul to Hashem…’”

The Maharz”u on this medrish explains its intentions: Moshe is being acknowledged that just as he evaluated every Jewish soul and understood their plight [in Egypt] so to you will merit being a prophet and king and you will merit to command the Jewish people and to evaluate the souls of each Jew according to their value.

The Medrish Rabba (1:27) in Shemos, quoting the same episode, actually tells of a different reward bestowed upon Moshe: “Hashem said [about Moshe], ‘You left you business and went to see the suffering of the Jews and acted with them in a brotherly way, I will leave the heavens and come down to speak with you.’”

The Rada”l (note 38) explains there that when the Torah says that Moshe ‘saw their plight,’ he really took some time to focus hard ((מתבונן on their plight and saw that something had to be fixed, which was to give each person a job befitting to them.

There is a concept in Jewish thought that Hashem repays any deed measure for measure. This is a classic case illustrating the point. Moshe was living in the palace of Pharaoh, and he knew he was Jewish, saw there was a problem concerning his true brethren, and took the time necessary to focus on how to make their lives easier. He focused specifically on the way Pharaoh treated them, psychological torture by giving them work better suited for the opposite gender or for different ages. The Medrish in Shemos says he went to Pharaoh in the guise of offering him help, and suggested that if he wanted hard-working slaves he needed to give each of them work they are most efficient at, to which Pharaoh capitulated. In return, G-D first rewarded Moshe by coming down from Heaven to speak to him at the burning bush just as Moshe went from the palace to be amongst the slaves, his brethren. Hashem also rewarded Moshe measure for measure for his taking the time and brain power necessary to focus on his brethren, by bestowing upon him the qualities of true leadership, and actually appointing him prophet and king over the Jewish people, causing him to lead them out of Egypt and through the desert. However the Medrish in Bichukosai says that that wasn’t enough; Hashem also gave Moshe the power to determine the true value of each person, bearing in mind factors of gender and age just as Moshe did in Egypt, enabling him to give them fitting jobs.

First off: what more is being added by pointing out that Moshe was given the opportunity to evaluate each Jew’s worth based on gender and age as a king does, just as he did in Egypt? Granted this is measure for measure but why was this such a big reward, why was it so special? In truth Moshe didn’t even evaluate each Jew as a king would; he was essentially a puppet of Hashem teaching the piece of torah Hashem taught him about the mitzvah of erechin, which delineated the value of each Jew by gender and age. So the whole reward was sort of an act, in essence!?
If one truly thinks about and appreciates the exactitude Hashem repays measure for measure he can appreciate every nuance of his reward. And this, in turn, will make him appreciate even more the way in which Hashem runs the world.

The medrish revealed that Hashem treated Moshe measure for measure with exactitude, down to the most minute detail. Indeed, Moshe even felt like he was a king, determining the value of each and every person even though in fact he was just reading the mitzvah in the Torah that Hashem gave him. But Moshe truly appreciated the opportunity Hashem gave him and felt he was acting kingly.

If we focus our awareness on the fact that this is how Hashem runs the world, then even though we cannot see clearly the exactitude with which Hashem treats us measure for measure, we will still have a greater appreciation for, and feeling of trust in, Hashem.

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