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Vayikra/Leviticus 27:8 And if he is too impoverished for your assessment, he shall bring him to stand before the priest and the priest shall assess him
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This verse concludes the section, from 27:1-8, that deals with vowing people toHaShem. Since the Torah forbids human sacrifice on multiple occasions then one of two things must happen: either that person must serve HaShem for the rest of their life, or there must be a valuation scale to determine the equivalent monetary value to complete the vow. This is the same sort of arrangement for the dedication of the first-born to Adonai, who must be redeemed. An example of this procedure that was carried out correctly is the prophet Samuel. Before he was born, his mother Hannah prayed, "If You will grant Your maidservant a male child, I will dedicate him to the L-RD for all the days of his life; and no razor shall ever touch his head" (1 Samuel 1:11, JPS). Samuel was born and once he was weaned,1 Hannah brought him to the Tabernacle at Shiloh and gave him to Eli the priest to serve HaShem there. An example where these rules were ignored with tragic consequences is that of Jephthah's daughter. Before going out to fight against the Ammonites, Jephthah vowed, "If You will give the Ammonites into my hand, then whatever comes out from the doors of my house to meet me when I return in peace from the Ammonites shall be the L-RD's, and I will offer it up for a burnt offering" (Judges 11:30-31, ESV). After defeating the Ammonites, Jephthah returns and "behold, his daughter came out to meet him with tambourines and with dances" (v. 34, ESV); instead of offering the equivalent monetary value - ten or thirty silver shekels, depending on her age (Vayikra 27:4-5) - he carried out his vow literally. Baruch Levine explains that "pledging the equivalent of one's life, according to a scale established by the priesthood, served two ends: the spirit of the ancient tradition was satisfied and, in practical terms, the sanctuary received necessary funds."
Nevertheless, as Drazin and Wagner point out, "sometimes a person is carried away, becomes overzealous in vowing, and cannot afford to pay his pledge". Alternatively, the person's circumstances might have drastically changed since he made the vow and he no longer has the wherewithal to meet the value of the vow. AsRashi says, "the 'standard' valuation is beyond the reach of the vower's hand". What then is to be done? How is the vow to be honourably discharged before the L-rd? Our text is the Torah's answer to this problem.
The word is the Hif'il affix 3ms form of the root , to stand, here with the meaning 'present'. The one who has made the vow is to be presented before the priest who is to make an assessment of his means to see what he can afford to pay. In previous chapters, the Torah has made provision for the community to support a member of the community who has become destitute or impoverished (see 25:25-55, Parasha B'har); now HaShem Himself, through the priest, takes a hand in assisting the poor. Although he must pay as much as he can, the priest must not leave him unable to earn a living and maintain himself. The Mishnah lays out some rules: "they supply him with food for thirty days, and clothing for twelve months, and bedding, shoes and tefillin ... if he is a craftsman, they give him two of every kind of the tools of his craft. To a carpenter they give two saws and two axes. Rabbi Eliezer says, 'If he was a farmer, they give him his yoke [of oxen], if an ass-driver, they give him his ass'" (m. Arachin 6:3). The Mishnah is also careful to protect any dependents: although they are not allocated food, since he can work to earn that for them, the clothing and shoes of a wife or children may not be taken from them (6:4) in order to cover his vow.Hirsch notes that the Talmud, commenting on these rules, says "Do not let him forfeit his existence through the assessment" (b. Arachin 24a); he must still be able to live. It is the priest's role to show HaShem's mercy and 'adjust' the value of the vow to a level that the vower can now afford without being completely destitute and dependent on the charity of the community. The value the priest sets is based on how much the person making the vow can afford, without stripping his life and livelihood. The value is also a "here and now" assessment and does not depend on any future income; the vow is considered fully paid and there is no residual debt.
Here, then, is an important lesson: even if a person seems to have no assets and no income - in other words, by the world's standards, no value - he is to be valued by the priest. The priest, who represents G-d, values according to G-d's valuation and everyone has a value to G-d. Even if now flawed by sin and its consequences, each of us is uniquely made in the image of G-d and is loved and valued by Him. G-d not only knows each person's value, but can see their potential and the plans that He has for their lives. He wants them to reach and experience that potential and fulfil those plans - for that is why they were created: to be in relationship with G-d and do the good works that "G-d prepared beforehand, that we should walk in them" (Ephesians 2:10, ESV).
How does G-d value us? First of all, He values us in His Son, Yeshua - He sees us in Him and "in the Messiah has blessed us with every spiritual blessing in heaven" (Ephesians 1:3, CJB). In Messiah we have been established and anointed and God "has also put His seal on us and given us His Spirit in our hearts as a guarantee" (2 Corinthians 1:22, ESV).
Secondly, G-d values us because He made us: "For You formed my inward parts; You knitted me together in my mother's womb. I praise You, for I am fearfully and wonderfully made. Wonderful are Your works; my soul knows it very well. My frame was not hidden from You, when I was being made in secret, intricately woven in the depths of the earth. Your eyes saw my unformed substance; in Your book were written, every one of them, the days that were formed for me, when as yet there was none of them" (Psalm 139:13-16, ESV)). He knows our ins and outs, our comings and goings and more about us than we know ourselves. He has even numbered our days and designed our lives.
Thirdly, G-d values us because He thinks about us: "For I know the plans I have for you, declares the L-RD, plans for welfare and not for evil, to give you a future and a hope" (Jeremiah 29:11, ESV).). The word in that verse means "thoughts, plans, designs" and is followed by a participle from the same verb: G-d is thinking thoughts, planning plans, designing designs, about us. The Psalmist exclaims that "Your wonders and Your thoughts/plans about us cannot be numbered" (Psalm 40:5) using the same word again. G-d values and thinks about us.
Fourthly, G-d values us because we are to receive the kingdom. Yeshua said, "Have no fear, little flock, for your Father has resolved to give you the Kingdom!" (Luke 12:32, CJB). G-d has already chosen us and prepared to give us His kingdom. This is so important that James confirms it: "Listen, my dear brothers, hasn't G-d chosen the poor of the world to be rich in faith and to receive the Kingdom which He promised to those who love him?" (James 2:5, CJB).
Lastly, for this drash, G-d values us because we are being made like Yeshua; we are becoming like Him, "so that he might be the firstborn among many brothers" (Romans 8:29 , CJB). Yeshua is the model, the template, the destination towards which we are all being drawn. Every family has variations among its members: height, hair and eye colour, skills, handedness, character; even identical twins have slight differences and personalities. G-d doesn't want us all to be the same - we're not punched out with a biscuit cutter - but He does want us to have a marked family resemblance to Yeshua, out biggest and eldest brother.
Now here's the thing: can we see people as G-d sees then and value them according to His valuation? In "Mud and the Masterpiece",2 John Burke speaks about his mission to "call out" the true masterpiece that G-d has made and designed in people from behind the mud that is currently covering it. He teaches that all believers have a responsibility to listen to what G-d is saying, recognise what He is doing and be able to speak that out in people's lives so that they know that G-d is calling them and talking to them and can respond and step up and out of whatever is holding them back.
Some people make the mistake of assuming that we are a blank canvas, simply waiting for the Master's brush. While there may be some highlights and finishing touches still to do, the picture is essentially already painted and is just awaiting discovery - we need to come to G-d and allow Him to declare our valuation.
1. - In the ANE, physical weaning would often not have taken place until at least the age of three years old, possibly four or five. Alternatively, this phrase might refer to the age at which a male child normally left his mother's instruction and transferred to that of the father, between seven and eight years old. In either case, the text tells us that "the boy was still very young" (1 Samuel 1:24, JPS).
2. - John Burke, Mud and the Masterpiece - Seeing Yourself and Others Through the Eyes of Jesus, (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Books, 2013).
Further Study: Matthew 12:50; Hebrews 12:28; 1 Peter 1:3-5
Application: Do you know how much G-d values you? If not, come to the Great High Priest today and ask him to tell you His valuation so that you can shake off the mud and reveal the masterpiece that G-d has designed you to be.
© Jonathan Allen, 2014
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