Looking into this week’s parsha (Re’eh) we see a lot about the connection of the Jews to the land of Israel. The connection expresses itself in the mitzvoth, or commandments which the Jews were obligated to fulfill upon entering the land of Israel. One of those mitzvoth was to take ma’aser, or “tithe” the grain and produce that we grew on a yearly basis. In fact, the verse in our parsha (Deut 14:22) reads, “You shall certainly take the (second) tithe from all of the produce of your seed crops produced annually from the field.” The fact that the verse repeats the word “to tithe” (aser te’aser) leaves it open to plenty of interpretation on the level of remez (alphanumeric hints), and that is what R’ Shapira (author of Megaleh Amukos) does this week…
First of all, the agricultural commands are associated with emunah, or faith. The Jewish farmer (and any other farmer) hoes his land and plants his seed, but it’s the One above who decides if the crops will be successful. In fact, R’ Shapira quotes a verse from Psalms (37:3) to makes that very point: “Trust in the Lord and do good, dwell in the land and cultivate faith.” Or, in other words, “do what you have to do, take the initiative, but develop faith cause it’s really the One above who makes you successful.”
Regarding faith, R’ Shapira makes it clear that the faith that we must cultivate is connected with the avot, the three forefathers. It was they who implanted emunah in the Jewish collective psyche, and it was they who received the land of Israel in order to bequeath it to the following generations of Jews. In fact the forefathers were called the ne’emnei aretz (Psalms 101:6), the “faithful of the Land.” About them as well, R’ Huna in the Talmud said that the forefathers fulfilled the agricultural commandments, even before the Torah was given. How do we know? When Avraham successfully waged war and returned his property to Malchitzedek, King of Jerusalem, he swore (Gen 14:20-22), “I raise my hand in oath…” [that I will not take any part of the spoils of war…and Avraham gave the king a tenth of the spoils]. When Yitzhak sowed his land and harvested one hundred times more than expected, he tithed his produce (Gen 26:12). And when Yaakov set out on his journey from his father’s house, he swore to God that upon return, “certainly give a tenth” to the One above (Gen 28.22).
Based on the above, R’ Shapira now points out that the three categories of produce mentioned in the shema – dagan (“grain”), tirosh (“wine”) and yitzhar (“oil”) – form an acronym (dalet-tof-yud) that has the same gematria (“numerical value”) as ha’avot – “the forefathers.” Within that acronym, Avraham corresponds to dagan (“grain”) because God made him the “father of many nations,” (hamon goyim netatich), with a hey instead of a dalet at the beginning of the word (hamon) because there are hey (“five”) different kinds of grain. Yitzhak corresponds to wine (tirosh), since both were from the side of gevura, or “judgment.” And Yaakov corresponds to oil (yitzhar), since he poured oil over the stone that he consecrated just before setting out on his journey to meet his wives and establish his home.
Moreover, upon Yaakov’s return from that journey, he forgot the small jars of oil that he needed in order to fulfill his promise to God that he would tithe all of his new found possessions. And therefore he returned to retrieve the small jars of oil in order to fulfill his promise to God. It was at that point that the angel of his brother Esau returned to wrestle with him, in order to prevent him from taking the small jars of oil. The angel of Esau represented the yetzer harah, or the “evil inclination” opposing holiness, which did not want Yaakov to fulfill his promises to God (to tithe his belongings). And therefore, he wrestled with Yaakov until the morning.
The rivalry with Esau also brings us full circle to our verse, “You shall certainly take the (second) tithe from all of the produce of your seed crops produced annually from the field.” Esau is called a “man of the field,” – one who lived by hunting animals of the field – and if Yaakov had not managed to fulfill his promise to God to tithe everything he owned (including the oil), it would have left an opening for his brother Esau, “man of the field,” to enter the picture. That is, when we fail to fulfill the mitzvoth as commanded, we leave room for the yetzer harah, the “evil inclination” to enter the picture and do damage. So, it behooves us to fulfill the mitzvoth with care and attention to detail, and in that manner we may hope to avoid the evil inclination and its damaging influence.