Re’eh 5778

The fence for wealth[1]

עשר תעשר את כל-תבואת זרעך היוצא השדה שנה שנה
You shall surely tithe your produce, that which comes from the field every year[2]

Pirkei Avos is a collection of ethical statements and guidelines by our Sages. One of them is by Rabbi Akiva, who teaches[3] how a person can safeguard the Torah, their wealth, their asceticism, and their wisdom. He says our tradition[4] is “a fence”[5], i.e. the way to protect, the Torah. Giving tithes is a fence for one’s wealth. Making vows is a fence for one’s asceticism. The fence for wisdom is silence. How is giving tithes a way to protect one’s wealth? Rashi explains[6] because of a verse in this week’s parsha. The Torah commands: עשר תעשר, you shall surely give tithes[7]. Since the Hebrew word for tithe and the word for wealth are spelled the same, the way to read the verse homiletically is עשר בשביל שתתעשר, give tithes in order that you become rich[8]. Hashem promises us that if we are generous with our tzedakah, we will see our wealth increase. However, this verse doesn’t seem relevant to Rabbi Akiva’s lesson. His entire teaching is how a person can protect their attributes[9]. Yet, this verse teaches how a person can increase their wealth. Why didn’t Rashi instead pick a verse[10] which teaches how a person can avoid losing their wealth[11]?

The answer is based on a careful analysis of how Rabbi Akiva phrased his teaching. With the first three attributes, he initially stated what the fence was, and only after stated that it was a fence. However, with wisdom, he first mentioned the word fence, and only after said what the fence was. Why is there this inconsistency? The explanation is that there are two different types of fences: Someone who has let’s say, a vineyard, will protect it from thieves by constructing a surrounding fence. However, sometimes a person when they decide they’d like a vineyard, will first construct a fence; only afterwards will they plant the vineyard within. Rabbi Akiva is teaching us that with the first three attributes, it’s good to make the fence first. For example, the best way to attain asceticism, is to make vows upon oneself. That’s why with these, he stated what the fence was, before mentioning that it’s a fence.

However, this recommendation isn’t relevant to silence. Someone’s silence will not lead to their becoming wise. To the contrary, they should ask many questions to gain a better understanding. Someone too shy to ask will never become wise[12]. Therefore, Rabbi Akiva specifically said “the fence for wisdom is silence”. Meaning, someone who has already attained wisdom, in order to protect their wisdom, should practice silence. In other words, they shouldn’t be overly generous with their speech[13].

According to this, Rashi was very precise when he chose the verse in our parsha to explain why tithes are a fence for wealth. Giving tithes carries with it a promise of wealth. This means if a person gives a lot of tzedakah, they will become wealthy. Surely then, it will protect them from losing it. However, choosing a verse which teaches that tithes protect the wealth a person already has would be misleading. If this was Rabbi Akiva’s intention with his teaching, he would have phrased it like he did with silence; he would have said that “the fence for wealth is giving tithes”. By teaching “giving tithes is a fence for wealth”, he taught that not only does tithes protect one’s wealth, it causes it as well.

Good Shabbos


[1] Based on Sefer Apiryon by Rav Shlomo Gantzfried, the author of Kitzur Shulchan Aruch, to parshas Re’eh s.v. עשר תעשר

[2] Deuteronomy 14:22

[3] Avos 3:13

[4] מסורת

[5] סייג

[6] ad. loc., and Bartenura

[7] Deuteronomy loc. cit.

[8] Taanis 9a; Shabbos 119a; Midrash Tanchuma Re’eh § 18. The gemarra says this is the one way it is permissible to test Hashem (see Deuteronomy 6:16), as per Malachi 3:10

[9] A fence protects that which is inside it

[10] Sefer Apiryon suggest Numbers 5:10. Rashi ad. loc. brings a Midrash that someone who withholds tithes will have their assets decrease by 90%, resulting in only a tithe remaining. His source seems to be from a manuscript of Tanchuma Yashan, brought in its Mevo Chapter 11 Kesav Yad 3 § 5. A story reflecting this idea is found there, with a similar story appearing in Midrash Tanchuma Re’eh § 10, brought by Tosafos to Taanis ad. loc. s.v. עשר תעשר

[11] Cf. Torah Temimah to Deuteronomy 14:22 § 36 who understands עשר תעשר’s homiletic meaning to be reflecting the principle taught in Kesubos 66b: מלח ממון חסר, the way to preserve one’s wealth is by diminishing your m oney, ie: giving tzedakah (Rashi ad. loc.). According to this, the verse Rashi chose is perfect. However, the word תתעשר sounds more like becoming rich, not remaining rich, like the Sefer Apiryon understands

[12] Avos 2:5

[13] Rav Shlomo Gantzfried says that he saw this this explanation somewhere, and admits that he forgot where it was written. The Mishnah’s inconsistency is noticed by many, so it is difficult to ascertain exactly which sefer he saw it in. Ben Porat Yosef by Rav Yosef Barabi, Derush 6 s.v. עוד ארז”ל נדרים says this exact explanation, that the other three attributes need their fences first, unlike silence. This sefer however was first published in the year 5684, and Sefer Apiryon was first published in the year 5626. An earlier work which says this is LeZecher LeYisroel on Avos, ad. loc. by Rav Yechiel Michel ben Tzvi Hirsch from Minsk, published in 5594. The earliest work I found which says that silence doesn’t bring to wisdom, unlike the other three fences which help cause their attribute, is Rabbeinu Bachaye’s commentary to Avos ad. loc. (printed in Kisvei Rabbeinu Bachaye, Mossad Rav Kook ed. pg. 584). He however explains that through silence a person will contemplate what they are hearing, and will subsequently become wise. Silence then is an indirect method, unlike the other three which are direct. This doesn’t seem to be what the Sefer Apiryon is referencing (However, Rav Yisroel Meir Lau in his commentary on Avos, Yachel Yisroel ad. loc. understands Rabbeinu Bachaye like Sefer Apiryon, that silence maintains wisdom, unlike the other three. It could be I’m misunderstanding Rabbeinu Bachaye). Perhaps then it was the sefer LeZecher LeYisroel. Cf. HaChossid Yaavetz ad. loc. who explains this discrepancy to be teaching that the other three fences are possible methods to cause their traits, unlike silence which he says is the only way to acquire wisdom