פרשת כי תבוא - Parashat Ki Tavo
Biur Maaser and Viduy Maaser – a Model for Alternative Social Justice at Eye Level
Rabbi Eliezer Sheinwald
In this week's Sedra we learn about the Mitzvot of Biur Maaser – the removal of tithes from one's domain, and Viduy Maaser – the formal declaration that one has tithed. These two Mitzvot can teach us about the Torah's alternative social justice model:
כִּי תְכַלֶּה לַעְשֵׂר אֶת כָּל מַעְשַׂר תְּבוּאָתְךָ בַּשָּׁנָה הַשְּׁלִישִׁת שְׁנַת הַמַּעֲשֵׂר וְנָתַתָּה לַלֵּוִי לַגֵּר לַיָּתוֹם וְלָאַלְמָנָה וְאָכְלוּ בִשְׁעָרֶיךָ וְשָׂבֵעוּ: וְאָמַרְתָּ לִפְנֵי ה' אֱלֹקֶיךָ בִּעַרְתִּי הַקֹּדֶשׁ מִן הַבַּיִת וְגַם נְתַתִּיו לַלֵּוִי וְלַגֵּר לַיָּתוֹם וְלָאַלְמָנָה כְּכָל מִצְוָתְךָ אֲשֶׁר צִוִּיתָנִי
When you have finished tithing all the tithes of your crops on the third year, which is the year of tithing, and have given it to the Levite, the stranger, the orphan and the widow, that they may eat within your gates, and be filled: Then you shall say before Hashem your G-d: "I have brought away the hallowed things out of my house, and have also given them to the Levite, the stranger, the orphan and the widow, according to all Your commandments, which you have commanded me".
On the fourth and seventh years, all tithes that are left in the house and have not been given to their intended recipient – the Cohen, Levi or poor – are taken out. This formal declaration should be made on the seventh day of Passover of the fourth and seventh years.
According to Rashi, we declare that we have tithed all Trumot (portions of crop dedicated to the Cohen) and Maasrot (tithes given to the Levi) that we are obligated to give: וְאָמַרְתָּ לִפְנֵי ה' אֱלֹקֶיךָ – declare that you have given your tithes; בִּעַרְתִּי הַקֹּדֶשׁ מִן הַבַּיִת– that corresponds to Maaser Sheni [second tithe] and Neta Revai [fruit of the fourth year brought to the Temple]; וְגַם נְתַתִּיו לַלֵּוִי - this corresponds to Maaser Rishon [first tithe], including Trumah [the portion of crop dedicated to the Cohen] and Bikurim [the first fruit brought to the Temple]; וְלַגֵּר לַיָּתוֹם וְלָאַלְמָנָה – this corresponds to Maaser Ani [poor tithe].
In our Viduy, or declaration, we also elaborate on having tithed properly and followed every instruction: כְּכָל מִצְוָתְךָ – "I have tithed in the right order, and have not made Trumah before Bikurim, or Maaser before Trumah, or Maaser Sheni before Maaser Rishon"; לֹא עָבַרְתִּי מִמִּצְוֹתֶיךָ– "I have not tithed from one crop instead of another, or from old crops instead of new".
These commandments – Biur and Viduy – require thorough examination of their Halakhic aspects. For instance, Maimonides only counts Viduy as a Mitzvah, and not Biur. Why? It appears that Viduy is part of the Mitzvah of Biur – why then would he count only part of the obligation as a Mitzvah rather than the main issue at hand?
The Rav Kook explains that Biur Maasrot is not a Mitzvah in and of itself, but rather a second chance given to us to fulfill the Mitzvah of tithing. It is intended for those who failed to perform their duties on time, and that is why it was not counted as a separate Mitzvah. It would therefore seem that Maasrot is a unique Mitzvah, which requires "double protection, so to speak, in the form of the Viduy, to ensure that tithes reach their intended recipients. However, this Viduy is not a confession of a sin, but rather a positive declaration designed to shape the unique state of mind of tithes and charity among the People of Israel. True, almost every civilization across the globe has some reference to the weaker links of society, and to the stronger sectors' obligation to help the needy. Yet the Torah wishes to emphasize the fact that both charity and aid must come from a different state of mind.
Maimonides underscores the importance of charity, as the Mitzvah that is most characteristic of the People of Israel, and of the greatest impact on so many areas of life. The fact that it is a Mitzvah, an obligation that may be forcefully enforced, is puzzling: isn't the whole point of charity that it comes from one's own free will; that it is made by choice and generosity? If one is forced to give lovingly, is it still considered 'charity' to do so? The Mitzvah of Maasrot sheds light on this conundrum. It reflects the bond between the individual and the public, and the public component within the individual's personal possessions. In agreement with this, Plato writes that which is expended on behalf of the law, 'the portion of the whole.' If the individual, however, neglects this 'portion of the whole' which is the basis of the welfare of the commonwealth of which he forms a part, in the belief that he does better in spending it on himself, sins against the commonwealth, and more against himself. For the relation of the individual is as the relation of the single limb to the body. Should the arm, in case bleeding is required, refuse its blood, the whole body, the arm included, would suffer. It is, however, the duty of the individual to bear hardships, or even death, for the sake of the welfare of the commonwealth. He must particularly be careful to contribute his 'portion of the whole,' without fail. Since ordinary speculation did not institute this, God prescribed it in tithes, gifts, and offerings, etc., as a 'portion of the whole' of worldly property.
The laws pertaining to Maasrot, including Biur Maaser and Viduy Maaser, reflect an alternative view and state of mind, one that is wholly contradicts the common perception of the essence of tithes and charity. One usually thinks that the goodness bestowed upon him – be it in plentiful crops or monetary.
gain – belongs to him and him alone. If he is to show kindness to another, he would be foregoing some of his own property to help the needy. The Torah, however, teaches us that tithes and charity should be given from the opposite perspective entirely. The goodness bestowed upon an individual in crops or fortune includes a part in it that does not belong to him. This part belongs to the Cohen, the Levi and the poor. In terms of these members of society, the individual is merely a channel through which their share is given to them. That is why every individual is commanded and obligated to give tithes and charity to their intended recipients. Whoever fails to do so is in fact a thief! And that is also why these laws are subject to enforcement.
In the same vein we have the words of our Rabbis - עַשֵּׂר תְּעַשֵּׂר - עַשֵּׂר בִֹּשְבִיל ֹשֶתִּתְעַשֵּר– tithe your tithes so that you may become wealthy. For Hashem gives us more crops in order for us to be able to give to others. We do not give of our own, but rather give these members of society their share. The Torah asks us to treat Tzedakah – charity – as a duty. We do not forego, we fulfill an obligation; we return the deposit th those it is intended for. Such a view of Maaser and Tzedakah create an alternative frame of mind of social justice, that is echoed by our Rabbis.
Rabbi Eliezer Sheinwald is a Tzohar rabbi and Head of the Yeshivat Hesder in Modiin.