Can we ever put a price on the value of a human being? Of course not. Or maybe?

First, a story:

Around the year 1812, an interesting event took place. No, no, not the one from the Maryland license plate. It's the story of the rabbi hiding under the bed, of course.

Rabbi Hillel of the city of Paritch was born in 1795 in the Jewish heartland of Ukraine. He was brilliant, earning a reputation as a Torah scholar of note.

During Rabbi Hillel's younger years, the Chassidic movement was spreading throughout Eastern European Jewry. One of its leaders was Rabbi Shneur Zalman, the first Rebbe of Chabad.

The young Hillel was determined the meet Rabbi Shneur Zalman, to see for himself what this new movement was about. But he just never could seem to catch up with him for a one-on-one encounter. He would hear that Rabbi Shneur Zalman would be visiting one town, would quickly travel there, only to learn that the rabbi had already left, or had no appointments available.

After several such disappointments, he decided to try a different tack. He would find out where the rabbi would be staying next, would hide in his room, jump out when the rabbi returned, and present him with a complex question from the Talmudic tractate of 'Evaluations' (Erchin in Hebrew) - right then and there. He would thus determine if the rabbi was the 'real deal'.

And so he did.

There he was, waiting, hidden, for the rabbi to return, when the door began to open. 'Here's my chance!' he thought to himself. But before he was able to spring his ambush, he hears Rabbi Shneur Zalman saying, 'If a young man has a complex question from the Talmudic tractate of 'Evaluations', perhaps he should evaluate his own character first'.

Hillel froze. 'How could he possibly know that I'm in here, let alone what I wanted to ask him!' By the time he 'un-froze' the rabbi had already left, and the two would never 'meet' again. But that one 'meeting' had turned the young Hillel into a life-long 'Chassid' (follower) of Rabbi Shneur Zalman's son and grandson, remaining a prominent figure in Chassidic legend to this day.

The Talmudic tractate of Evaluations, starring in this story, discusses evaluating a pledge to charity, e.g. if someone pledges the value of their field or property. What is strange is that this book of Evaluations also includes a method to evaluate... people! So, if someone pledges the 'value' of his friend, Jack, to charity, well, let's find out how much Jack is worth! This actually exists in Jewish law.

Doesn't this fly in the face of everything Jewish?

I noticed this, thought about it, and realized that the Talmud can actually be teaching us a valuable lesson.

One of the basic tenets of Judaism is the intrinsic, invaluable quality of every person. Yet, sometimes, placing a monetary value on a human being - even a loved one - might not be such a bad idea. Imagine if we valued our family, friends, spouse or children using dollars and cents - using a high, but not unrelatable number.

If the market had a bad day, we can look in the back seat of the car, or down the hall, or at a family picture on the wall, and see millions in value sitting right there! The 'loss' suddenly becomes nearly negligible. While their true value is obviously infinite, putting them - temporarily - in a monetary category might actually shine a light on just how valuable those loved ones really are.

This week, we read the Torah portion of Noach. It's the story of Noah and the ark, and how one single family made the entire world worth saving. It's a lesson we can remember when we have an opportunity to help just one single friend, spend just one extra minute helping the kids with homework or make just one friend smile.

After all, they are worth millions!

Rabbi Avrohom