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No Upgrades Allowed

Friday, 16 May, 2014 - 2:00 pm

Imagine you are on an airplane traveling alone in economy class. Suddenly, the flight attendant approaches and says that they need this seat and you are requested to move. They are moving you to first class.

Most likely you are happy with the upgrade.

But, say it was the other way around. You are in first class.  The flight attendant says there aren’t enough spaces and you are being asked to relocate to the economy section.  Regardless of whether you paid with miles or dollars, you are likely a very unhappy camper.


In this week’s parsha Bechukotai the Torah forbids the exchange of one animal that has been donated to the Beit Hamikdash (Holy Temple) for another. An individual that donates a bull for a sacrifice may not come back a day later and say, “I’d like to exchange it for another bull.” Regardless of the reason, it is forbidden.

Interestingly, this law applies even if one wants to exchange a poor animal for a better one. Simply put, no upgrades allowed.

Now, why would G-d not want an upgrade?  We are taught that we should purchase the best etrog, the finest tefillin and the choicest foods for Shabbat – all to demonstrate that G-d deserves the best. So, why can’t I exchange an inferior gift for a superior one?

Rambam (Maimonides) explains that the Torah’s concern is that it knows our evil inclination all too well.  Since a person naturally seeks to increase one’s possessions and be sparing with resources, if he were allowed to exchange a poor animal for an expensive one, he might substitute a good animal for a bad one and claim that it is really better.

Therefore the Torah outlaws exchanges altogether.


Granted, there is concern of dubious behavior, and we ought to err on the side of caution when it comes to G-d’s home.  But, is that the attitude we ought to have for other areas of life?

In a 1958 talk the Lubavitcher Rebbe explained that sometimes a person feels that they would like to exchange their allotted task in life for something else. Instead of serving G-d by giving charity from my business ventures, I will study Torah. Instead of studying deep concepts of Torah I want to focus on simpler tasks. 

The lesson from this week’s parsha is that the desire to substitute my divinely ordained mission in life for someone else’s – stems from the evil inclination.  Initially it tells someone to swap a more menial task for a higher one, but eventually it will tell a person to exchange the good for the bad.


The airlines might offer you an upgrade. But when it comes to your role in this world and the mission the Almighty has staked out for you – your location is perfect. No need to switch up or down.

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