Ki Tissa
For the week of February 22, 2003 / 20 Adar 5763
Torah: Shemot / Exodus 30:11 - 34:35
Haftarah: 1 Melachim / 1 Kings 18:1-39

What's a Life Worth?

The rich are not to give more than a half shekel and the poor are not to give less when you make the offering to the LORD to atone for your lives (Shemot / Exodus 30:15).

One of the customs imposed upon the people of Israel was that when a census was taken a special offering was to be given by each and every person twenty years of age and over. Every person was to give the same amount as a ransom for their life.

From this we see that in God's eyes each person's value is the same regardless of their economic standing or their function in the community. This notion of equality of persons is one that has not been widely accepted for most of human history. In fact even those countries that have openly expressed this idea have actually struggled in their attempt to make it a reality.

Most of us when asked would probably agree that no life is of more value than another. Yet it seems to me that the reality is we don't really believe that. Just observe our reactions to the news of loss of life to which we are continually exposed. We tend to be far more affected by the loss of a close relative or friend than that of a stranger in a far away land. While our emotional reactions should not be indicators of our estimations of people's actual worth, I wonder how many of us base our sense of values on such emotions.

Not too long ago I received an e-mail describing the individual conditions of several Israelis who had been injured in a suicide bombing. Reading the names, ages and precise conditions of these people hit me hard. Like many, each time I hear of another suicide attack, I grieve to some extent, but most of the time it's just another group of people whom I don't know. Reading that e-mail made it all very real to me. These were people like me, like those I do know, whose lives and lives of their families were likely changed forever. My own personal relationship to them or lack thereof took nothing away from their personal worth.

Reading those descriptions should help me to think of the so many others that, until now, have only been statistics to me Ė whoever they might be.

The world is at yet another precarious time in its history. Difficult solutions are being sought for difficult problems. Sometimes our leaders must take drastic measures to ensure the greater good, but I wonder how many of us realize how our benefits are often paid through the lives of others. We demand the sacrifice of their lives in exchange for our own.

This doesn't mean that we must allow evil people to destroy the innocent. But what it might mean is that we should not be too quick in making decisions that may involve the destruction of others.

Of course most of us donít have much of a part to play on the global scene, but let's take this down to the level on which most of us live. Each day we encounter people whom we don't really know. Do we realize their worth? If we would begin to truly accept that God values each person equally, then maybe we would also begin to relate to these people the way God want us to.

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