Seasons - Then and Now

For the week ending 28 August 2021 / 20 Elul 5781

Avowal of Mission Fulfilled

by Rabbi Yosef Hershman
Library Library Library

The lawgiving concludes with the institution of viduy ma’aser, the avowal that was recited after an individual faithfully performed his tithing obligations. The commandments of ma’aser are the only ones which require a retrospective avowal, a fact that indicates the great importance attached to the principles and attitudes promoted by these mitzvahs.

The three tithes, ma’aser rishon, m’aaser sheini and ma’aser ani, teach us that we are to use our material resources for the purposes set by Hashem for these tithes. Ma’aser rishon is given to the Levi. Through this tribute we provide for the sustenance of the landless Levi’im, who cultivate the spirit of Torah. Ma’aser sheini elevates the physical, sensual act of eating and transforms it into a holy act of duty. An individual is to eat this only in Jerusalem, in sight of the Temple. This commandment emphasizes that the Torah does not recognize nearness to Hashem and human dignity attained by the spirit alone, while the physical, sensual side is dismissed and relegated to moral degradation. Instead, Judaism enlists every aspect of human nature for the purpose of man’s ennoblement, and regards the sanctification of the physical aspect of life as the first, indispensable requirement for man’s elevation to Hashem. In fact, the avowal primarily emphasizes this ma’aser sheini as opposed to the other tithing obligations, underscoring that sanctification of the sensual is the foundation stone of a Jewish life of duty. It is the same message expressed in the mitzvah of brit milah, and in a myriad of other ways throughout the Torah. Finally, ma’aser ani is given to our needy brethren, emphasizing the duty to promote the welfare of our fellow man.

In the performance of the tithes, ma’aser rishon must be first. For only the spirit of the Torah, fostered by the Levi’im, instills in man the consciousness of his life’s mission: He is to sanctify and uplift sensual corporeality — ma’aser sheini — and, bound by the duty of love, he is to look after the welfare of his fellow man — ma’aser ani. Without the Torah’s enlightenment, a person would gratify himself like an animal, and his aspirations to acquire possessions would be empty egoism.

The realization of these three purposes encompasses the sum total of our national mission. When the avowal is recited, and these aims are realized, we can then call upon Hashem and request His gaze to be directed to us along with His bountiful blessing: O direct Your examining look down from Your holy place from Heaven, and bless Your people Israel and the soil that You have given us, as You swore to our fathers, a land flowing with milk and honey.

  • Sources: Commentary, Devarim 26:15, 14:22

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