Holy Exchanges

Translated and adapted by Moshe-Yaakov Wisnefsky, for "The Chumash of the Lubavitcher Rebbe


"Any tithe of cattle or of the flock, any that passes under the staff, the tenth one shall be holy to G-d. He shall not distinguish between good and bad, and he should not exchange it. If he does exchange it, both it and its exchange shall be holy; it may not be redeemed." (Lev. 27:32-33)

Each season, all newborn animals are placed in a pen. The animals are then let out one at a time and the owner marks every tenth animal as tithed. These animals cannot be exchanged with other - even better - animals. If such an exchange is attempted, both animals become holy.

"If he does exchange it, both it…shall be….": The first letters of these words in Hebrew ("hameir yemirenu vehayah hu") are the same letters as G-d's name Havayah (yud, hei, vav, hei) rearranged. There are twelve ways of arranging the letters of this divine name, and each arrangement corresponds to one of the months of the year. The combination formed by this phrase corresponds to the eleventh month, Shevat (January-February).(1) The question is, though, why is G-d's Name alluded to in a phrase describing a forbidden act (exchanging a tithed animal)?

The positive aspect of this phrase can be found in its inner meaning. Mystically, exchanging one animal for another refers to the worthy endeavor of changing the mundane into holiness. With regard to one's fellow human being, this means bringing someone who is estranged from his soul back to it, revealing to him his connection to G-d.

This endeavor entails two exchanges: a person must first enter the realm of the mundane, descending from his preoccupation with lofty, spiritual matters and "exchange" his spiritual ivory tower for the mundane world; he can then elevate the mundane, "exchanging" it for holiness.

If a person is reluctant to leave the safe environs of holiness and enter a mundane world in order to elevate it, the Torah reassures him by tell him that… "both it and its exchange shall be holy" - i.e. both he and that which he exchanges becomes elevated to a higher level of holiness. He will not be denigrated by his descent into worldliness and that which he elevates will remain within the realm of holiness.

The idea of bringing the mundane the under wings of the Divine Presence is exemplified by Joseph, the eleventh of the twelve tribes, who is also associated with the month of Shevat.(2) Joseph was named by his mother with the prayer "may G-d add (in Hebrew, "yosef") for me another son" (Gen. 30:24).

Rachel's prayer alludes to Joseph's mission in life, which was to transform "others", those who seem to be strangers to G-d, revealing that they are in reality "sons". Joseph returns the lost sons of Israel to their Father in Heaven. Joseph's mandate is that of every person: to transform the world, which appears to be "an other", into something whose lineage and source is apparent. This is the message of the phrase "…if he does exchange it, both it…shall be….".


(1) Pardes Rimonim 13:3; Siddur of the Arizal, kavanat Rosh Chodesh.
(2) Each month corresponds to another tribe (Tur, Orach Chaim, 417 end). Thus Shevat, the eleventh month beginning from Nissan, corresponds to Jacob's eleventh son, Joseph (Siddur Beit Yaakov, Sha'ar HaGai).


[Adapted from Likutei Sichot, vol. 26, p. 90 ff.]
Copyright 2001 chabad of california / www.lachumash.org

Rabbi Moshe Yaakov Wisnefsky is a scholar, writer, editor and anthologist. Originally from Los Angeles, he moved to Israel in 1977, and currently lives in Jerusalem. While living in Tsfat, he was one of the three founders of ASCENT in 1983.


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