This chapter reads to me like an appendix, after the grand promises and threats of the previous one. Sure, all things come from God, and we owe it all back – but how much do we give, and what’s fair compared to others?
The first provisions are about erech or erkecha, money payable to ‘redeem’ a person. This tariff is based on age and gender, but not on health or earning power. It’s a bit like ‘I owe my life’, or ‘we dedicate our firstborn to God’ – perhaps ‘as for me and my house, we will serve God’ – then rendering that vow in money rather than in time and talent commitments.
This takes shape in relation to the ‘temple tax’ or ‘poll tax’ owed by every Israelite annually, before and in addition to the whole system of sacrifices and equivalent gifts of money. Women are given less valuation than men – but the differential shrinks as they age. Men lose economic value as we age, faster than women do, in this accounting!
What should I give? What do I owe? These normative questions remain current. When are taxes too high? When are they too low to sustain the commonwealth of a just society? What is an appropriate level of charitable giving, and what are guidelines for relative equity? The priests are authorized to discount what a person owes based on age and gender, if they lack means.
The next provisions are about hekdesh, money equivalents to delivery of dedicated and sacrificed animals. Some of us don’t own animals, or would rather meet our communal, religious or charitable obligations in payments of money. Who measures the equivalent of an animal without blemish? The priest has the final word on whether what is offered is discounted or at a premium to what is owed based on the vow of the donor.
What gifts in kind are acceptable in lieu of money- what money value is to be put on gifts in kind? Do we offer second-class surplus only?
The LORD spoke to Moses, saying:
2 Speak to the people of Israel and say to them: When a person makes an explicit vow to the LORD concerning the equivalent for a human being,
3 the equivalent for a male shall be: from twenty to sixty years of age the equivalent shall be fifty shekels of silver by the sanctuary shekel.
4 If the person is a female, the equivalent is thirty shekels.
5 If the age is from five to twenty years of age, the equivalent is twenty shekels for a male and ten shekels for a female.
6 If the age is from one month to five years, the equivalent for a male is five shekels of silver, and for a female the equivalent is three shekels of silver.
7 And if the person is sixty years old or over, then the equivalent for a male is fifteen shekels, and for a female ten shekels.
8 If any cannot afford the equivalent, they shall be brought before the priest and the priest shall assess them; the priest shall assess them according to what each one making a vow can afford.
9 If it concerns an animal that may be brought as an offering to the LORD, any such that may be given to the LORD shall be holy.
10 Another shall not be exchanged or substituted for it, either good for bad or bad for good; and if one animal is substituted for another, both that one and its substitute shall be holy.
11 If it concerns any unclean animal that may not be brought as an offering to the LORD, the animal shall be presented before the priest.
12 The priest shall assess it: whether good or bad, according to the assessment of the priest, so it shall be.
13 But if it is to be redeemed, one-fifth must be added to the assessment.