November 22, 2019

Weekly Table for Five Parsha: Re’eh

One verse, five voices. Edited by Salvador Litvak, Accidental Talmudist

Tithe, you shall tithe the entire crop of your planting, the produce of the field,
year by year. –
Deuteronomy 14:22


Rabbi Miriam Hamrell
Ahavat Torah Congregation

Often I look at a small lot of land and think, “What could be built here?” Astonishingly, a two-story mansion with an underground garage. It’s wisdom and art! This encapsulates many of our decision-making dilemmas of quality versus quantity, particularly when it comes to time and money. The answer is in our verse “Aser T’aser.” Interpreted as “Tithe you shall tithe.” Tanya in “Likutei Amarim” adds that when giving money to the poor, it is equivalent to all other mitzvahs put together. 

Hebrew is awesome. Words can have several meanings. The root word of “T’aser” means 10 (eser) and wealthy (ashir). Talmud tractate Ta’anit 9a teaches “aser t’aser al menat aser bishvil sh’tit’asher,” interpreted as “Take tithe that you become wealthy in the merit of the mitzvah.” 

Mathematically how does this work? If I give away a tenth of my income, will I have enough money? What do I get back? Riches in the future? Who guarantees it? God guarantees it! It is a Divine commitment we find in Malachi 3:10, “Test me now so I will open for you the windows of heaven and pour out your blessing until, Ad Blee Die, you’ll have more than enough.” 

Giving your tithe is like building a mansion on a lot. Unless you invest in the present, you will not have your future goal. Give time and money to the poor, the widow, the orphan and your synagogue to guarantee your own Divine commitment to the future. 

May it be so. Amen.

Rabbi Yosef Kanefsky
B’nai David-Judea

The tithing of the crop described here is not the one that was given to the Levites or to the poor. It was rather a tithing that was to be taken to Jerusalem and eaten by the farmer who had raised the crop, as he celebrated with family and friends. What could have been the purpose of this tithing? 

Nachmanides proposes that the purpose was to provide the folks who lived in the agricultural parts of the country an excuse and an opportunity to come and spend time in the capital city. The intention was that once there, these “tourists” would reacquaint themselves with the capital city’s great institutions: the Great Court and the judges, and the Holy Temple and its Kohanim (priests). And while the individual judges and Kohanim of ancient Israel surely varied in quality in different eras, the institutions themselves invariably conveyed the values and traditions of the nation. 

I remember the first time I visited Washington, D.C., as a student on an eighth-grade trip. My excitement as the Capital dome came into view, when we passed by the Supreme Court, when we stood in front of the White House, was uncontainable. It mattered not one whit that I had come of political age in the midst of the Watergate hearings (which continuously were on the TV in the living room), an era in which government sustained a real battering in the eyes of an impressionable youth. I believed in the transcendent value and ultimate goodness of the institutions of the world’s greatest democracy. And I still do.

Rabbi Chaim Tureff
Pressman Academy and director of STARS Addiction Recovery

“Aser T’aser” (Tithe you shall tithe) is understood by our Sages as a call for action. One’s initial thought of giving is that you are taking from what you have and giving it to someone else. Our tradition teaches us that what is yours is actually a gift from God; you don’t own it for yourself but it is yours to share. 

There is an innate fear that one is going to miss out or lose something if they share it with someone else. The Talmud in Ta’anit 9a clearly states that the opposite will happen when one gives. You actually enrich yourself as opposed to take from yourself. This contrary action is what we tell people in recovery on a regular basis. 

Logic dictates that an addict questions what he/she has to offer anyone. The opposite is true. The 12th Step teaches recovering addicts to carry the message of recovery to other people. There is an inherent piece to our soul that makes every individual uniquely qualified to give to another. God imbued each person with these gifts. 

There are numerous parts of ourselves that we can tithe. God has blessed each person the ability to give, which not only empowers the receiver but additionally empowers the one giving. We should look inward to find these gifts and tithe, you shall tithe. 

Rabbi Ilana Grinblat
Vice president of community engagement, Board of Rabbis of Southern California

My son recently received his driver’s permit. Now, he wants to drive everywhere, all the time. I explained proceeding gradually — first in an empty parking lot, then on neighborhood streets, subsequently busier streets and, later, to freeway and night driving. 

In this parsha, God teaches giving in a similar way. Rabbi Isaac ben Moses Arama (a 15th-century Spanish commentator) noted that monetary mitzvot are presented in “ascending order of difficulty.” The Torah first lists a tithe eaten by the field owner in Jerusalem, then tithes for the Levites and poor, followed by debt forgiveness and, lastly, the shmitah year where the land must stay fallow. According to Arama, tithing “requires practice and training because people are naturally reluctant to part with their own” crops or money. 

How do we incrementally teach these practices today? 

Jewish preschoolers typically put coins in a tzedakah box while singing tzedakah songs, but then what? How do we inculcate giving later in life? 

For my son’s bar mitzvah, some guests sent two checks — one made out to him and one for $18 with a blank subject line for him to insert the name of a charity. What a powerful way to model donating! 

When a teen receives their first paycheck and later in adulthood, how do we encourage tzedakah? What techniques can we provide for giving? 

By giving in incremental ways throughout our lives, like a driver’s license, we can earn a tither’s license! 

Rabbi David Seidenberg
Neohasid.org, author “Kabbalah and Ecology”

While the Torah tells us to tithe every year, the purpose of each year’s tithe changed according to the seven-year rhythm of the shmitah or Sabbatical year. Without harvest or ownership of land or produce in the seventh year, there could be no tithe. But during the six years of tithing in between, every third year was for “the Levite … for he has no portion or inheritance with you, and the stranger and the orphan and the widow in your gates, and they will eat and be satisfied, so that YHVH your God may bless you” (Deuteronomy 14:28-29). Later this command is repeated: “When you have finished tithing the tenth of your produce in the third year … you shall give it to the Levite, to the stranger, to the orphan and to the widow, and they will eat in your gates and be satisfied.” (Deuteronomy 26:12) 

The tribe of Levi, the elite, is grouped with the stranger, the orphan and the widow, three groups that represent all those who were poor and dispossessed from the land. The Torah takes a real society with real classes and demands first that the most elite not own land, and second, that everyone among the poor and the elite break bread together — in celebration with the good folk who provided the tithe itself. The utopian impulse was not to create a classless society, but rather a society that always corrected itself, so that justice was distributed equally to all inhabitants of the land.