Parashah of the week: Re'eh

“You shall consume the tithes of your new grain and wine and oil, and the firstlings of your herds and flocks, in the presence of the Lord your God... so that you may learn to revere the Lord your God forever” Deuteronomy 14:23


What’s the point of a gift, if it isn’t actually given to another person, but kept for yourself? What does it mean to have a tithe that is “donated” to oneself?

Abarbanel, the great Italian Bible commentator of the 15th century, raises this question in response to the tithe described above. Unlike other tithes, which are separated by the owner and given to priests, Levites or the poor, the “second tithe” is separated and then eaten by the owners themselves. Why carry them to Jerusalem — to "the place where [God] will choose to establish the Divine name" — only to eat them yourself? Why exert yourself to travel, if you are the intended recipient of the “gifts” anyway?

The verse makes clear that there is a pedagogic element to this mitzvah. Bringing these foods to the Temple is designed to help the traveller learn. Chizkuni, a 13th-century commentator, argues that “so that you may learn” refers to “reverence for the Lord becoming something natural, a daily occurrence, part of your everyday life, not something restricted to when one visits the synagogue and prays intently. When people observe… huge crowds coming to Jerusalem and being exposed to priests in great numbers, this will make a deep impression on them and be an unforgettable experience.”

In other words, the trip constitutes an investment in one’s own Jewish education. This tithing practice is what we might now describe as an immersive Jewish experience, designed to create a rich and multi-sensory encounter with Jewish life and Jewish ideas.

If the agricultural gifts described in the Torah can be understood as ways to recognise that bounty is a Divine gift, and we must recognise that and share the wealth, then the second tithe has an entirely different purpose. It serves as a reminder that that resonates deeply even outside of an agrarian lifestyle: a committed, inspired Jewish life includes a requirement to spend time and money on our own Jewish experiences.

As Chizkuni points out, this could mean a trip that allows us to ground even mundane activities like eating meals in a context that gives pedagogic power to the moment. The gift of the second tithe is the gift of a Jewish retreat, a camp, a school, or a trip to Israel.

It won’t always be convenient or easy, but the feeling of being surrounded by others, of meeting great teachers, and building Jewish content into our lives is a critical to building Jewish identity, and has been since the time of the Torah.

Share via

Want more from the JC?

To continue reading, we just need a few details...

Want more from
the JC?

To continue reading, we just
need a few details...

Get the best news and views from across the Jewish world Get subscriber-only offers from our partners Subscribe to get access to our e-paper and archive