The final section of Parashat Bechukotai addresses various forms of donations which one may pledge to hekdesh – the Temple treasury. One type of pledge – known as “arakhin” – is a vow to donate the symbolic “value” of a specified individual, and the Torah delineates how the sum is determined for fulfilling such a pledge. The Torah establishes that when it comes to this kind of pledge, a dispensation is given if the donor is poor. The person whose “value” he pledged is brought before a kohen who makes an assessment and determines how much should be paid based on the financial capabilities of the donor (27:8).
The question arises as to why it is necessary for the person whose “value” was pledged to be assessed by the kohen, given that in any event, the determined sum is based on the donor’s financial abilities. What purpose is served by the ceremonial assessment of the person, if the kohen decides upon a sum not on the basis of this individual’s “worth,” but rather on the severity of the donor’s economic struggles?
The Ralbag explains that this is done so that people do not undermine or question the seriousness of nedarim (vows). If the kohen would arrive at a new, lower sum without formally assessing the person whose “value” was pledged, then his decision would come across as entirely arbitrary, and thus people will reach the conclusion that the amounts stated in a pledge are not binding at all. The kohen therefore assesses the individual and declares an adjusted sum following his reassessment, to make it clear that the sums are not determined arbitrarily, and people are, generally, required to pay the full amount their pledged.
Rav Zalman Sorotzkin, in his Oznayim La-Torah, notes several other answers which have been offered. One is that the individual is brought before the kohen for an assessment in the hope that he will volunteer to pay the difference. Upon seeing that he is being “appraised” at a lower amount than others in his category, he might feel uneasy about this assessment, and will then be motivated to pay the difference to reaffirm his sense of self-worth.
Symbolically, perhaps, this might provide instruction for situations where one feels insecure or uncertain about his “value.” When we feel uncomfortable with ourselves, we are best advised to work toward “paying” the “difference,” towards accomplishing more. Feelings of insecurity should lead us not to despair, and not to resent towards those who seem to undervalue us, but rather to redouble our efforts to achieve. They should motivate us to strive, aspire and reach higher, so we achieve the most we are capable of achieving.