Ki Savo 5778

Lively motivations[1]

לא-אכלתי באני ממנו ולא-בערתי ממנו בטמא ולא-נתתי ממנו למת וגו’‏
I did not eat of it during my intense mourning period, and I did not consume it in impurity, nor did I give of it to the deceased…[2]

The Torah obligates the separation and distribution of various types of tithes. Fruits and vegetables grown in the land of Israel are forbidden to be eaten until their various tithes are separated[3]. Some tithes are given to the Kohanim for consumption[4], some to the Leviim[5], and some to the poor[6]. One type of tithe is known as ma’aser sheni, the second tithe. It is for personal consumption, but only in Jerusalem[7]. Instead of transporting the heavy fruits to Jerusalem, a person can transfer the tithe status onto coins[8]. These coins are brought instead to Jerusalem, and used to purchase food and drink. These purchases are then consumed in Jerusalem. After[9] the third year of the seven-year agricultural cycle, everyone must remove all their remaining tithes which they have failed to donate or consume. There is subsequently a mitzvah to come to the Temple and perform vidui, confession[10]. The person proclaims that they have followed all the laws pertaining to tithes. They declare that they didn’t eat it at forbidden times. They state that neither they nor the food was impure when it was consumed. Finally, they say that they did not give of it to the deceased. What does this last confession mean?

Rashi, quoting the Mishnah[11], says[12] that this refers to a case where a person transferred their ma’aser sheni to money. They then used this money and purchased with it shrouds and a coffin for the deceased[13]. During the vidui on tithes, the person declares that they didn’t misuse their ma’aser sheni funds in this way. The Rambam has a slightly different explanation. He explains[14] it to mean that the ma’aser sheni money wasn’t used to purchase goods that aren’t for personal sustenance. For example, the funds shouldn’t be used to purchase clothing. This means the Rambam understood “to the deceased” to a be euphemism for anything that doesn’t sustain life[15]. The Chasam Sofer, aware of these explanations, desired to give a more homiletical interpretation.

Chazal teach us[16] that a person who gives tithes will be awarded with wealth. This reward is limited to this world, which is fleeting. Since the reward isn’t eternal, as in it’s short-lived, it can be referred to as “deceased”. However, a person who gives tithes purely for the sake of Heaven, i.e. to perform a mitzvah, and not for the wealth that is promised, is using it for “life”. That is, the eternal life of the world to come. How can we discern what a person’s motivations are with their tithes?

A person whose motivation is to become rich makes sure to separate all their tithes as soon as possible. Each opportunity that arises, they separate the necessary tithes. They see it as their way to speed up the promised wealth. However, a person who has loftier motivations, won’t be as particular about separating their tithes so quickly. They’ll simply make sure to separate them by the deadline which comes after the end of the third agricultural year. They will then properly distribute and use them. They do it solely for the mitzvah, and don’t feel the need to separate all their tithes so early[17]. This provides a new meaning to the confession: “I did not give of it to the deceased”. Meaning, I did not separate my tithes in order to become rich, which is something fleeting. This is symbolized by death, since life in this world is transient. Rather, the person declares they separated tithes solely because that is what Hashem commanded[18].

As we approach Rosh Hashanah, we can take the Chasam Sofer’s interpretation and apply it to our own lives. All the things we occupy ourselves with throughout the year, what are our motivations? Are we doing it solely to gain in this world, a world that is fleeting? Is that where our efforts lie? Or are we acting with our eternity in mind… Do we desire to fulfill Hashem’s will and perform His mitzvos? Doing so not only provides a benefit to this world, but also increases our reward in the world to come[19]. We would therefore be working for “life”, and not “death”. This could be what we are asking for on Rosh Hashanah when we ask Hashem to give us “life”. That is, the opportunity to work on meaningful endeavors, and not the vanities of this world. Something to surely keep in mind.

Good Shabbos

[1] Based on Chasam Sofer’s Toras Moshe I to Deuteronomy 26:14

[2] Deuteronomy loc. cit.

[3] Numbers 18:32 and Deuteronomy 12:17. See Makkos 16b

[4] Deuteronomy 18:4

[5] Numbers 18:21-24

[6] Deuteronomy 14:28-29, 26:12

[7] ibid 12:17-21, 14:22-26

[8] ibid 14:25

[9] See Rashi to Deuteronomy 26:12

[10] ibid verse 13

[11] Ma’aser Sheni 5:12. It’s also in Sifrei Devarim § 303

[12] to Deuteronomy 26:14

[13] See Ramban ad. loc. who struggles to understand this Mishnah, as ma’aser sheni money can only transfer tithe status onto food or drink

[14] Mishneh Torah Hilchos Ma’aser Sheni 3:10

[15] Ramban loc. cit., who also takes issue with this approach. See there where he attempts to provide his own explanation. See also Kesef Mishnah ad. loc. who defends the Rambam’s interpretation of the Mishnah that Rashi quoted

[16] Taanis 9a; Shabbos 119a; Midrash Tanchuma Re’eh § 18; Rashi to Deuteronomy 14:22 brings this idea as well

[17] One could ask why this is considered a better practice than to separate them as soon as possible. Why not say זריזים מקדימין למצוות, the alacritous perform mitzvos as soon as possible (Pesachim 4a)? This may have to do with the underlying nature of the mitzvah to separate tithes. Similar to ritual slaughter, there may be no obligation to go around separating tithes. It’s only when a person wants to eat their produce; they must first separate the necessary tithes. This is just like ritual slaughter, which is only necessary when a person wants to eat meat. This is how Rashi in Gittin 47b s.v. מדאורייתא לא understands. Cf. Taz to Shulchan Aruch Yoreh Deah 1:7 § 17. See also Rabbi Akiva Eiger ad. loc. s.v. שהרי who understands like Rashi (although he doesn’t quote him), and Minchas Asher Devarim § 46 for a detailed analysis on this discussion. This could explain why there’s no idea to separate tithes as early as possible. However, it would make sense that once they’re separated, the tithes should be given to the proper people as soon as possible

[18] The end of the verse we started with says עשיתי ככל אשר צויתני, I did according to all that which I was commanded. This provides a new meaning to that verse, as it’s a continuation of not giving of the tithes to the deceased. They are declaring that they did it, because that is all that they were commanded

[19] See Nefesh HaChaim 1:4, 12