Parshas Re’eh – Giving Tithes

 By Avner Friedmann

In this week’s Parsha we read[1]: “You shall surely tithe (עשר תעשר) the entire crop of your planting, the produce of your field, every year”. The Gemara[2] states that the second part of the compound verb (תעשר) can also be read in the Holy Tongue (Biblical Hebrew) as “you shall be enriched”. The Torah tells us that a Jew who donates at least ten percent of his agricultural crops, will be blessed with prosperity. Our Rabbis tell us that this holds true even today regarding tithes to charity out of our monetary earnings[3]. However, doesn’t logic dictate that when we give to charity our overall wealth diminishes? After all, we are giving our money away, which lessens the remainder.

The Midrash[4] tells us of a man who owned a field. He would properly separate tithes every year and give them to the Kohanim. His field produced 10,000 bushels a year, from which he tithed 1,000. The nine thousand remaining bushels were plenty for him and his family to live on comfortably. Before his passing he called his son and explained the secret of his wealth. He instructed him to always give at least ten percent of his earnings.

After his father passed away, the son took over the field. The first year it yielded 10,000 bushels; he separated 1,000 bushels and gave them to the Kohanim as his father had done. The second year he decided to give only 900 bushels and he kept the extra 100 bushels for himself. Next year the field only yielded 9,000 bushels. The third year, figuring that times were tough; he reduced his tithes by yet another 100 bushels. The following year his field yielded only 8,000 bushels. He continued in this way, giving away 100 bushels less each year, and accordingly, his field produced less and less each year, until it yielded only 1,000 bushels; ten percent of the crop his father was originally blessed with.

When his friends realized what was happening, they came to his house to congratulate and celebrate with him. He asked them, “What is there to celebrate? Why did you come to visit a poverty stricken man who can’t make ends meet?” They answered, “In the past you were a property owner who tithed ten percent of your produce to the Kohanim; now Hashem repossessed your field, and you have been elevated to the status of a Kohen who receives ten percent; congratulations!”

It is not easy to give away our hard-earned money to someone else, with seemingly nothing in return. It goes against our nature to be selfish. However, our Holy books tell us that, in truth, the ten percent we give away is the insurance policy for the ninety percent we keep. The money we are blessed with is a deposit from Hashem, who watches to see what we will do with it and how we will use it. When we distribute it properly, then, as it were, Hashem says, “You have given it away for My sake. Therefore, I will find ways to give you even more in return.” To become wealthy should never be a goal in and of itself. Rather, it should be the means to be able to give tzedakah, help people in need and support the dissemination of Torah and mitzvot. Our Rabbis stated[5]: “One mitzvah brings another mitzvah in its train”. The reward of doing a mitzvah is the opportunity to do yet another and another mitzvah. When we give to the poor and to Torah institutions, Hashem looks kindly at us and gives us more.

The prophet Malachi assures us from Hashem that giving increases our wealth, rather than decreases it. He states,[6] “Bring all the tithes into the storage house, and let it be sustenance in My Temple. Test Me, if you will, with this, says Hashem, Master of the Legions, see if I do not open up the windows of Heaven for you and pour blessings upon you without end.” Of course, we should not do mitzvot with the intention of becoming wealthy or any other benefit, such as health etc. Nonetheless, Hashem in His bountiful goodness assures us of His blessings. He challenges whoever is afraid to give and promises to shower His blessings; and as a matter of fact, this is the only mitzvah that Hashem actually allows us to test Him with.

May each and every one of us merit having the means and the opportunity to give much tzedakah and may we thereby merit the true and complete redemption through our righteous Moshiach, speedily in our days.

 


[1] Devarim 14:22.

[2] Shabbat 119a.

[3] Tithes given charity on money earned today are not a Scriptural obligation, but are Rabbinical in origin.

[4] Tanchuma, Re’eh 10.

[5] Ethics of the Fathers 4:2

[6] Malachi 3:10.

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