You Get a Lot More Than You Paid For
One of the mitzvos in the Torah is to take tithes (tenths) on all the produce of your fields. This is called Ma’aser, which is the Hebrew word for one tenth. This mitzvah is discussed in this week’s parsha (Devarim 14). Additionally there is a mitzvah of גמילות חסדים (helping others or “acts of kindness”) the source for which is derived from the well noted mitzvah of ואהבת לרעך כמוך – love your friend as yourself (Vayikra 19:18). This is the basis of a broad range of charitable behavior under the heading of גמילות חסדים.
The specific mitzvos of tithing apparently all deal with the את כל תבואת זרעך היוצא השדה – tithing of agricultural produce; rather than the tithing of financial gain. However, Tosafos (Taanis 9A) quotes a Sifri on the pasuk in our parsha: עשר תעשר את כל תבואת זרעך היוצא השדה שנה שנה – You shall tithe, indeed you should tithe, “כל” (all) the grain increase of what you planted (Devarim 14:22). The Sifri points out that the word “כל”, meaning “all,” is redundant and therefore must teach us something additional. The Sifri says that the additional law which we learn from the extra word is that of Maaser Kesafim – the tithing of one’s annual profits whether in goods or money and giving it as tzedakah (charity). The poskim all quote this law in their halachic rulings, Rambam (Hilchos Matnas Aniyim – The laws of Gifts to the Poor Chapter 7:5), Tur and Shulchan Aruch (Yoreh Deah 249:1).
Chazal (Shabbos 119A, Taanis 9A) aggadicly expound on this pasuk of “Aser Tiaser” – You shall tithe, indeed you shall tithe. The Hebrew word that translates as “you shall tithe” is repeated twice in the pasuk. Therefore the Gemara homiletically declares, עשר בשביל שתתעשר – give the tithe in order that you shall become wealthy. This seems to be derived by a play on words. The difference in Hebrew between “asser” – tithing and “oisher” – wealth is just the placement of the nekudah (dot) on the letter “ש.” When the nekudah is on the right side (שׁ) it is a “sh’in” thus rendering the word te’asher, and when it is on the left side (שׂ), the same letter reads as a “s’in”, and the word is then read as Te’asser. Since the verse repeats the word, “עשר” as “עשר תעשר” (asher te’asser), our Rabbis derive the above lesson. However, this drasha (exegesis) needs clarification. What ultimately prompted our Rabbis to come to this understanding?
The Medrash (Tanchuma, Ki Sisa 14) teaches us that every time the Torah utilizes the word “hashkafa” (gazing), it is an ominous portent for bad; except for the verse (Devarim 26:15) השקיפה ממעון קדשיך – Hashkifa (gaze) from Your holy abode.” The reason for this change in nuance is to bring to light the message: “How great is the power of gifts to the poor, for they can transform the attribute of anger and harsh judgment into mercy.”
The Mekubalim teach us that the right side is suggestive of chesed while the left side is associated with gevurah (stern judgment). (Coincidentally, the word for “left” in Latin happens to be “sinistro,” from which “sinister” – meaning foreboding, is derived.)
We can now understand what prompted our Rabbis to say “Give the Tithe in order that you become wealthy.” The dot on top of the s’in (שׂ) is on its left side and the dot on the sh’in (שׁ) is on the right side. Moving the diacritical dot from the left to the right alters the letter “s’in” to a “sh’in”, and therefore the word reads te’asher rather than te’asser. When one gives tithes, charitable donations to the poor, he has the power to convert the impending “דין” (strict judgment) into mercy; because he, in effect, moves the dot from the left side of the letter to the right side. The word now reads te’asher – to become wealthy. The Rabbis were thus prompted to declare that a person who gives charity liberally will be rewarded with wealth, because his good deeds caused the revision of the word “Te’asser” to read as “Te’asher” by transposing the dot from the left to the new position on the right, rendering the word as “oisher” – wealth.
A simple understanding of the Gemara’s words leads us to understand this only in application to the agricultural tithes which carry with it numerous halachos (laws) regarding to whom it is to be distributed (to a Levite, in the main) and the manner in which it is to be consumed (in ritual purity). The prosperity guaranteed by the Talmud is not explicitly mentioned in regard to the tithing of one’s non-agricultural based earnings. However, since the Sifri, as mentioned by Tosafos, derives the obligation to give to the poor as a tithe from the requirement of tithing produce, we can infer that through tithing one’s financial gains, one is also entitled to the same bounty promised to those who tithe the fruit of the land.
In addition Chazal might have also had a hint to this exegesis from the words of Shlomo HaMelech (King Solomon), who states in Mishlei (3:16), ומשמאלך עושר וכבוד – from the left side [of the Torah] comes wealth and honor, meaning that one who performs the deed that has the dot on the left side, namely tithing, he merits wealth and honor.
Rabbi Dovid Sochet