Parashas Bechukosai

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Giving; the Key to Receiving

Taste of Talmud

The 35th day of the Omer is exactly 15 days before Shavuos. In the time of the Bais Hamikdash, the sages instituted three days in the year that Maaser B’haima (the animal tithe) must be given.  This was one of them, along with the 15th day before the other festivals.    The Talmud in tractate Bechoros 58a, asks: Why were these times chosen? The Talmud answers: The farmers were refraining from selling any of their new livestock until they had the opportunity to fulfill the Mitzvah of Maaser B’haima.  This created an imbalance between the supply and demand for livestock. This was due to the fact that during these three times of the year every head-of-household has a Mitzvah to bring a Korban R’i’yah (appearance offering) and a Korban Chagiga (holiday offering). Therefore the sages decreed that the farmers must fulfill this Mitzvah 15 days before every festival so the farmers would joyously fill the market with sufficient livestock for all of the Jews coming up to Yerushalayim for the festivals.  This is rather curious because as Rashi (Bechoros 57b) explains, this tithe is not obligatory.  The tenth (or maaser) animal only receives its special status after the owner marks it with a red stick. Yet, all Jewish farmers, of their own volition did not want to turn a profit until they had given a tenth of their newborn animals to be used for this voluntary Mitzvah. Why? It would have actually been beneficial for them to sell some animals before taking the tithe in order to lessen the amount of animals that had to be tithed.

Taste of Halacha

Explaining Maaser B’haima, the Rambam writes: One out of every ten animals is designated as Maaser B’Haima.  The tenth animal must be selected in a unique way.  All of this year’s newborn animals are gathered into a corral and released one by one.  The farmer uses a stick dipped in red paint to mark each 10th animal.  If it does not have any blemish, it must be brought as a sacrifice to the Bais Hamikdash.  Its meat may be eaten by the owner anywhere within the walls of Yerushalayim.  If it has a blemish, it may be eaten by the owner wherever he lives but it may not be sold in the market. In our times, the sages forbade us to designate Maaser B’haima lest an unblemished animal come out as the tenth animal and the farmer come to slaughter and eat it outside of the Bais Hamikdash. This would carry with it the punishment of Kares (excision).  (Rambam Hilchos Bechoros 6:2) It is interesting to note that the Rambam compiled the laws of Maaser B’haima together with the laws of a first born animal.

Taste of Parasha

A majestic stream slowly wound its way down a mountain, its nourishing waters continuously replenished by its hidden source at the top of the mountain.  All who drank its waters marveled at the cool, life-giving succor which it provided.  One man decided to divert the spring uphill to his private villa on the mountainside in defiance of the laws of nature.  No sooner had he completed his own private conduit, than the river stopped flowing.  The Maharal of Prague (Nesivos Olam, Nesiv Hatzedakah) uses this as a parable to what happens when a person thinks he can redirect G-d’s flow of bounty to himself and himself alone. The flow stops.  As Rav Chaim Volozhiner often said, “A person was not created only for himself – rather, to bestow goodness upon others”. The Ibin Ezra concludes his comments on Leviticus with a cryptic comment on the laws of Maaser B’haima. “One who has a heart to understand the secrets of the universe will know the secret of the first-born and the tenth”. The commentaries to the Ibin Ezra explain, by giving the first of our labor and the tenth, a person shows that he recognizes that the flow of blessing which has come to him through the ten heavenly spheres, as ministered by the ten groups of angels and brought into existence with ten sayings, is from the one and only, Hashem.  Is it any wonder then, that   a Jew would insist on first giving a tenth of his blessings before venturing into business? Furthermore, perhaps we can now understand why the laws of Bechor and Maaser B’Haima go hand in hand.

About tasteofyeshiva

RABBI YAIR FRIEDMAN teaches at The Torah School of Greater Washington, and Yeshiva L' Baalei Batim. He is the owner and director of Camp Gevaldig LLC.
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