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D'varim/Deuteronomy 14:22 You shall surely tithe all the produce of your seed that comes from the field each year
The familiar construction of an infinitive absolute, , followed by a prefix form (in this case, 2ms) of the same verb, , used to convey the meaning of "surely" or "certainly", introduces this command which is itself the first of a short series of commands concerning one of the tithes of produced that the Israelites were to make from their crops. The repeated words at the end of the verse are another syntactical device, variously translated "year by year", "each year" or "every year", to show that the command is to be carried out regularly as each year and harvest season passes.Rashi comments that each year's tithe must be met out that same year's crop - it may not be carried forward or brought back to be paid with produce from another year. HaShem requires the Israelites to run a strictly cash accounting system, no accruals permitted! Jeffrey Tigay points out that the following verse - "the tenth of your grain, new wine and olive oil, and the firstborn of your cattle and sheep" (v. 23, CJB) - includes just about everything grown. A later account of this: "the people of Israel gave in abundance from the firstfruits of the grain, wine, olive oil, honey and other agricultural produce" (2 Chronicles 31:5, CJB) suggests that fruit, honey and other produce was also included. Tigay concludes, "The halakha requires that tithes be given from all foodstuffs grown in, or on stems planted in, the soil" (cf. m. Ma'aserot 1:1).
Although the following text tells us exactly what we are to do with the tithe, we have to wait until the last phrase of the aliyah to find out why this tithe and its following actions are to be taken: "so that Adonai your G-d will bless you in everything your hands produce" (v. 29, CJB). The Sforno comments, "Because of tithing the grain produce and animals, you will increase your produce and cattle, as our Sages state, 'Tithe so that you will become affluent' (b. Shabbat 119a)." This is a word-play on the root , which can be read as 'tithe' , or 'riches' depending on which way it is vocalised. But is this essentially self-serving reason enough to explain these commands to take a tithe of all the years produce to Jerusalem and eat it there?
Abravanel offer an explanation based on the V'Ahavta command. In the earlier chapters, Israel has been urged to love G-d and serve Him physically (in the dietary laws) to fulfill "You shall love the L-rd your G-d with all your heart and soul" (D'varim 6:5) but "in this section he came to teach them how to serve the L-rd with their money and produce, in fulfillment of the text, 'with all your might/substance'". Isaac Arama explains this section as a graduated set of demands leading to the sabbatical year: first the Israelites must give a tithe, but they get to eat it themselves, then every three years they must give that tenth away; finally, each seven years they must be prepared to release debts that they had lent. The Sefer HaChinuch sees a different picture, namely of this tithe that must be consumed in Jerusalem, acting as an incentive to get the farmers and other workers who are remote from Jerusalem - and hence from Torah observance and study - to spend time there, doing that. It argues that this is the way to fulfill the prophecy that "the earth shall be filled with the knowledge of the L-rd" (Isaiah 11:9); by bringing everyone up to Jerusalem, the seat of the Sanhedrin, the place devoted to Torah study and observance, to offer and eat their tithes year by year, "in this manner there would be at least one member of every household who was a Torah scholar able to impart his knowledge to the other members of his household." The Ha'amek Davar gives yet another explanation - that the exercise is designed to provide support for Torah scholars in Jerusalem: "[This] tithe may only be consumed in Jerusalem and it is impossible for the owner to consume during his brief festival visit in Jerusalem a whole tenth of his produce. Therefore he will either prolong his stay in Jerusalem after the festival and there is nothing else to do there but study Torah and cultivate piety or leave his surplus money for the upkeep of Torah students in Jerusalem and increasing their number." Finally, the Alshikh focuses on the way in which the tithe is to be eaten - before the L-rd - "This tithe is 'holy to the L-rd' and from the table of the Most High ... it does not belong to him but to the L-rd, from His table; he was permitted merely to eat and drink of it." Nechama Leibowitz summarises, "You should eat, at the same time taking to heart that you are in the presence of G-d and always stand in awe of Him."
The L-rd makes it clear that continued blessing is in some direct way contingent upon our tithing: "'Bring the whole tithe into the storehouse, so that there may be food in My house, and test Me now in this,' says the L-rd of Hosts, 'if I will not open for you the windows of heaven, and pour out for you a blessing until it overflows'" (Malachi 3:10, NASB). Yet our giving is not to be an impulse reaction to the emotional manipulation of a speaker soliciting funds at a meeting; instead it is to be more measured and planned, like the farmers who tithed "year by year", regularly and faithfully. Rav Sha'ul writes to the Corinthians who had not been exposed to this aspect of Torah, telling them, "On the first day of every week let each one of you put aside and save, as he may prosper, that no collections be made when I come" (1 Corinthians 16:2, NASB). Whether you are in a fellowship that teaches tithing as a biblical principle, or encourages giving "as the Spirit leads", it is clear that our giving of money, time and resources to the kingdom of G-d should be a regular and planned activity rather than a haphazard or spasmodic arrangement that can leave us unable to respond to a need that has arisen, or placed in debt or financial difficulties in order to make a contribution. Neither is honouring to G-d.
Further Study: 2 Corinthians 9:6-11; Nehemiah 10:34-39
Application: Do you set aside money - tithe or freewill - on a regular basis for the L-rd and His work? This can be held in an interest-bearing account until needed, allowing you to make both regular and special gifts without unbalancing your domestic budget and shows a readiness to have funds available for G-d to call upon when He wishes.
© Jonathan Allen, 2008
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