The Jewish Study Bible explains that "the scale is evidently based on size and strength, and thus on potential productivity in terms of physical labor. It is not indicative of any social hierarchy." (p. 277)
Fair enough. No age-ism or sexism here. And there is the important stipulation in verse 8 that "if one cannot afford the equivalent, he shall be presented before the cohen, and the cohen shall assess him ...according to what the vower can afford."
But there's a deeper issue here:
"Through the procedure described, a purely fiscal transaction takes on the character of the ultimate act of devotion, that of consecrating oneself ... to the Lord. Thus biblical religion preserves vicariously the notion of self-consecration without requiring one actually to sacrifice oneself." (Jewish Study Bible. p. 277)
So we give our worth in money.
But now come the big questions: How much is that? How much is a human being worth? How do we measure this? By our productivity? By our earning capacity? By the size of our bank account? Stock portfolio? Total net assets? Is human worth quantifiable?
How much do you think you are worth? How much would you pledge as that equivalent?
And here are some special questions for graduating seniors who have lined up a job: Does your starting salary correlate with what you think you are worth? After you graduate, how will you convert your worth, whatever it is, to the upkeep of the Jewish institutions that will be there for you?
Mazal tov to all graduates and their families.
Prepared by Rabbi James S. Diamond, Princeton University, senior consultant to Hillel's Joseph Meyerhoff Center for Jewish Learning
Additional commentaries and text studies on Bechukotai at MyJewishLearning.com.