A Costly Choice
By Rabbi Yochanan Zweig
"Those that are to be redeemed - from one month shall you redeem
according to the valuation, five silver shekels by the sacred shekel; it is
twenty gera." (18:16)
In this week's parsha the Torah lists the various gifts
that are given to the Kohain. Among them we find the five shekalim that a
father gives the Kohain for the redemption of his firstborn son. At the
ceremony of the Pidyon Haben, the redemption of the firstborn, Chazal
established that the Kohain asks the father the following question: "Mai
ba'is tfay?" - "Which do you prefer? Would you rather keep the five shekalim
or take the child?" At first glance, this appears to be a ludicrous
question, for no father would choose the money over his son. Furthermore,
the implication that the father has the option of leaving his son with the
Kohain in exchange for keeping the money is not halachically correct; the
Torah requires a father to redeem his son.1 Additionally, the
child is not the property of the Kohain, and if, theoretically, the father
would refuse to redeem his child, the Kohain would have no claim to the
child.2 Therefore, what was Chazal's intention when they
incorporated this question into the Pidyon Haben ceremony?
Chazal are bringing to our attention that unfortunately very often we go
through life choosing money over our children. We continuously rationalize
working late or conducting business which keeps us away from our children.
We claim that we are doing this for their future, however, living a more
moderate lifestyle which would enable us to have more of an impact on our
children would be infinitely more beneficial for them. The notion that we
are helping our children by providing them with material benefits is really
a rationalization for choosing the money over the child. Chazal are
challenging parents to be more discriminating when evaluating their
motivations; When does money stop being a necessity that provide for the
well-being of the family, and become a luxury that may inhibit a parent's
involvement in the development of his child?
1.See Kiddushin 29a
2.See the Sefer Chut Hashani who discusses this issue.
A Sovereign Right
"...this shall demonstrate to you that Hashem sent me..." (16:28)
Korach succeeded in planting a doubt in the Jewish people's
minds concerning the Divine nature of Moshe's appointment and his prophecy.
Moshe, therefore, took unprecedented steps to deter any possible skeptics.
He called for the earth to open up and swallow the rebels. This would
convince the people of his status. However, if this miracle did not occur,
then Moshe's authenticity, as well as the validity of the entire Torah would
The Chechnover Tzaddik asks the following question: How
could Moshe take so great a risk? Perhaps Korach's assembly would repent and
therefore not be subject to this death by Divine decree. This would give the
appearance of Moshe being proven wrong.
The Midrash notes that even nursing babes were subjected to this punishment.
Although under normal circumstances, a child does not receive the death
penalty, as a by-product of dispute, normative legal procedures are
suspended.2 How can we understand this concept?
Within the Jewish legal realm we find two judicial systems. The first is the
system implemented by the Sanhedrin and the lower courts. The second is the
sovereign ruler's right to judge. The natures of these two systems are very
different. The Sanhedrin and lower courts focus on the rights of the
individual.3 Therefore elements such as two witnesses and prior
warning are necessary for a conviction. It is the king's responsibility to
insure the well-being of society, and therefore, he has the right to do
whatever he sees fit in order to fulfill that responsibility.4
Korach's rebellion was an act of secession from the sovereign state of the
Jewish people. By declaring that he and his assembly were no longer subject
to Moshe's authority, Korach lost the right to be tried within the court
system. Only those who consider themselves to be members of the state are
subject to the court's jurisdiction. Moshe, therefore, dealt with them in
his capacity as king. He saw their act as an act of war which threatened to
undermine the very fabric of Jewish society. Therefore, Moshe waged war
against them. The death of the assembly of Korach was not decreed by
Heavenly court. This was an executive order from Moshe, invoking his right
as king.5 Repentance would not have saved Korach's assembly, for
Moshe's action was necessary in order to eradicate any doubt from the minds
of Bnei Yisroel as to the capacity of his prophecy.
Children, therefore, were subject to this decree as well. The king has the
right to do whatever he deems necessary for the preservation of his state.
Moshe had that right, even more so in this situation, where Korach's act was
one of war, in which circumstance the individual loses all his rights.
2. Tanchuma 3
3. Droshes HaRan 11
4. Rambam, Hilcos Melachim, 3:10
5. Ibn Ezra, Devarim 33:5
The Whole Picture
"...that he not be like Korach and his assembly, as Hashem spoke about
him through Moshe"(17:5)
The Talmud derives from this verse that a person who is a
"ba'al machlokes", an agitator as was Korach, violates a precept and
deserves tzora'as. Why is tzora'as, the punishment generally reserved for
one who speaks lashon hara, the appropriate penalty for an agitator?
Rabbeinu Yonah, based on the Talmud Yerushalmi, rules that it
is permissible to speak lashon hara against a person who is a ba'al
machlokes. What is the quid pro quo that permits such behavior?
Disagreement is not necessarily negative; the majority of the body of
halacha as we have it today is comprised of conclusions based upon arguments
found in the Talmud. It is possible to have a harmonious coexistence with a
person, yet disagree with his ideas and perspectives. A ba'al machlokes is a
person who goes beyond disagreeing with another individual's ideas or
perspectives; he feels it impossible to coexist with the individual with
whom he disagrees. The ba'al machlokes' perception is that "this town is too
small for the two of us".
All of Bnei Yisroel are one entity and have a potential for harmonious
coexistence. The Maharal explains the reason for this is that we have a
shared reality, for we emanate from the same source, i.e. Hashem. Perceiving
Bnei Yisroel as one reality is indicative of belief in the Unity of Hashem.
Therefore, on a deeper level, a ba'al machlokes who cannot have a shared
existence with someone, is lacking in his "emunah", his belief in the Unity
of Hashem. He views Bnei Yisroel as separate individuals, and refuses to see
the individuals as part of a collective whole. This myopic view is shared by
the ba'al lashon hara, who focuses on one deficiency within a person,
refusing to view the entire reality of the person. Viewing the person as a
whole would temper the negative characteristics which the ba'al lashon hara
has found. However, he refuses to do so, choosing to focus on the person as
separate parts rather than one entity. This explains the quid pro quo of why
it is permissible to speak lashon hara about a ba'al machlokes; since the
ba'al machlokes chooses to view people as separate parts rather than as
parts of a whole, he himself can be dealt with in such a manner.
When seeing someone with a physical disfigurement, a person tends to focus
on the disfigurement rather than looking at the whole person. Tzora'as,
therefore, becomes the logical punishment for both the ba'al machlokes and
the ba'al lashon hara, for tzora'as is a blemish on a visible part of a
person's body. This causes everyone to focus on the blemished area, rather
than on the entire person. The punishment reflects the sin; the ba'al
machlokes and ba'al lashon hara focused on a part of a person or a person as
a part, rather than on the whole, and therefore, they are treated in a
2.Sha'ar Shelishi #58
3.See Gevuros Hashem #39