OzTorah: Ask the Rabbi.



In ancient Israel one could donate to the sanctuary the sum of money which represented the valuation a person placed upon himself or one of the family. It was a technical procedure. The amount of the valuation ranged from 5 to 50 shekels depending on whether you were male or female, young or old. The criterion was social usefulness – your worth to the community.

Had the question been about the value of a person’s body, the answer would have been unimpressive. It was estimated in pre-decimal days that a man weighing 140 pounds contained enough fat for 7 cakes of soap, carbon for 9,000 pencils, phosphorus for 2,200 match heads, magnesium for one dose of salts, iron to make one medium-sized nail, lime to whitewash a chicken coup, sulphur to rid one dog of fleas, and water to fill a 10-gallon barrel.

Shakespeare, on the other hand, said,

“What a piece of work is man! How noble in reason! How infinite in faculties! In form and moving how express and admirable! In action how like an angel! In apprehension how like a god! The beauty of the world! The paragon of animals!”

To him a person’s value was too high to be assessed in dollars and cents.

What we do is to judge a person by where they live, what car they drive, what they have, even how they dress. A shule president I knew used to say,

“Yes, we’ll give that man an Aliyah. His suit looks tidy enough!”

No: real worth depends on character, integrity, humanity, personality, and the Divine spark in one’s being. There is now way one person can be measured against another. Each is unique. None is a carbon copy or clone.

One of the banes of my life was the question that always followed the High Holydays:

“How many people were at your shule?”

Old rabbis

I more or less knew the answer, but I was reluctant to tell. It would have reduced everyone to a number, a cog in a wheel, a crowd of indistinguishable grey faces.

When I spoke, I was addressing separate individuals with their own personal mix of talents, capacities and blessings. Each had their own personality, their own problems, their own promise. True, they made up a crowd, and the crowd had a personality of its own because of the shared moment.

The moment the rabbi loses sight of the infinite distinctiveness of each individual he turns human beings into what an Australian politician called a population stamped out of cookie cutters.

What are you worth? The answer is unrelated to bank accounts or investments. It depends on your individual make-up and the way you assess what you can do for society, whether a five- or fifty-dollar contribution.

* This article appears as a chapter in Rabbi Apple’s new book, “Enemies and Obsessions”. For more information, visit: http://www.oztorah.com/2014/11/enemies-obsessions-rabbi-apples-latest-book/


Rabbi Apple served for 32 years as the chief minister of the Great Synagogue, Sydney, and was Australia’s highest profile rabbi and the leading spokesperson for Jews and Judaism on the Australian continent. Now retired and lives in Jerusalem.

Blog: http://www.oztorah.com

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