This week’s parsha explores those things that can’t be bought.
A man once came to his rabbi with an urgent request: He wanted to become a Kohen. Every holiday, he would watch with envy as the Kohanimin the congregation ascended to the podium to bless the people. He wanted to join the club.
The rabbi was unyielding. According to Jewish law, the Kohen status is hereditary, transmitted from father to son. “I can’t make you a Kohen,” he responded apologetically but firmly.
“Rabbi, I will donate $10,000 to the synagogue!”
“The priesthood is not for sale.”
The Rabbi was curious. “Why exactly do you desire so desperately to become a Kohen?” he asked the gentleman.
“Well, you see, my father was a Kohen, my grandfather was a Kohen… I want to be one too!”
In capitalist America, just about everything is up for sale. From mansions to publicity, money can get a person quite far. One can even lobby for a cause and get the support of public officials–if he has enough cash to back him. And, unfortunately, morals have gone the way of merchandise–they, too, have become negotiable.
So we think the same of mitzvot: “Maybe I can pay the rabbi to exempt me from some obligations… Maybe, for the right price, the Rabbi will waive some restrictions…. Maybe…”
Maybe not. Thousands of years ago, pharaoh, the ruler of the mighty Egyptian Empire, thought the same way. When Moses demanded, in the name of G-d, that he allow the Jews to go free, he tried negotiating: “Well, you can go, but not with the children. And your possessions? Forget it! Everyone else–okay.” But that didn’t get him very far. There is no bargaining with G-d.
The Previous Lubavitcher Rebbe was imprisoned in communist Russia for his so-called “counter-revolutionary activities”–namely, teaching Torah. During an interrogation, seeing that the Rebbe was not cooperating, the officials threatened him with a gun. “This toy has made many men talk,” they sneered. The Rebbe refused to be coerced into doing anything. He looked at them calmly and replied, “This toy only scares those whose existence consists solely of their bodily needs. I, however, believe in our soul–neshama. That, you can never threaten. I am not afraid.” And he continued holding his own.
Often, it is not a gun that is held before our eyes, tempting us to abandon our principles. More likely, it is money. “How can I say no?” we wonder. “There is so much money involved!”
At those times, let us look up firmly and declare, “I will not be coerced, frightened, or tempted. Judaism is not for sale.”