Five years ago, I pointed out that this week’s parasha ought to end halfway through:
Back then, I looked at some approaches to the problem. Now I
would like to explore another way of looking at it, from Rav Itamar Eldar’s article in Torah MiEtzion: Vayikra.
The Ishbitzer says that the chapter on ערכין is a response to the curses of the תוכחה:
The laws of ערכין, of donating to the מקדש, are a response to human needs in the face of tragedy. The Netziv adds that the idea of a “voluntary” מצוה is very strange:
And Hirsch says that this is why these laws are only an appendix to the ספר:
Rav Eldar points out that in the sorts of situations that we feel the need to sacrifice, when we are praying “מן המעמקים”, we offer to give up the thing that is most valuable to us. The “natural” expression of sacrifice is human sacrifice:
But ה׳ tells us that human beings have value, and cannot be sacrificed for our religious needs. ערכין is the mechanism for sublimating that urge, which existed throughout history:
The example of מישע מלך מואב is striking: his child sacrifice so shocks his enemies that they immediately retreat:
It is at the akedah that ה׳ unambiguously rejects human sacrifice. The story still bothers us, because Avraham initially doesn’t protest. We feel that human sacrifice is obviously, inherently, immoral. How could he even think that ה׳ wanted him to do such a thing?
But Alex is wrong. The fact is that through most of human history, killing children was a normal thing. And arguing that it was still immoral (and Alex’s statement really is “If there is anything moral man knows”) is a logical fallacy:
We do feel it is immoral, but that is because the lesson of the akedah is so ingrained in us and our society. When faced with the need for sacrifice, we have to substitute:
And the parasha ends with a law that provides a striking contrast:
Animals are to be offered. If the are קדוש, they cannot be exchanged. Human beings must be exchanged, because every individual has their own inherent value and cannot be offered to fulfill our own spiritual and psychological needs.
And that is the introduction to next week’s parasha, that introduces the census of בני ישראל. Even though they are being counted as part of the whole, each has their own story:
Every human being has worth. That is the lesson of the פרק of ערכין.