Yom Chamishi, 18 Iyyar 5779
Lag B Omer Thursday, 23 May 2019
Parashat Ki Tavo 2012

Parshat Ki Tavo by·Rabbi Monique Mayer
7th September 2012

When I was 15, my best friend told me that one of her pop idols, Donny Osmond, gave 10% of his earnings to his church as a tithe. And I remember three questions running simultaneously through my teenage brain. Firstly—wasn't Donny Osmond quite religious to be giving that much money to his church? Secondly, why would anyone would simply give away 10% of their earnings without getting something in return? And, thirdly, what was a tithe? In my relatively secular teenage experience of limited pocket money, I wouldn't dream of parting with even a penny of my allowance, and I lived for the day when I saved enough to buy my very first record (Jackson 5 album). I had neither awareness nor understanding that tithing was originally a·Jewishobligation. And it wasn't until I was into my 30s that I came to know that tithing, which seemed at first glance completely unrelated to modern living, were based in ethical giving. At that point, I did some research and found out the following about tithes.

Tithes were a portion of produce and livestock taken from the farmer's yield and set aside for God. The complex system of tithing is mentioned in Leviticus (27:30-33), Numbers (18:21-32), and Deuteronomy (12:15-28,14:22-29, 26:12-15). A gift (terumah) offering was initially taken from one's yield and given to a·Kohen— priest—as·sacred food. Of the remaining yield, 10% was given to the Levites in exchange for their Temple service. The Levites—in turn—gave 10% of what they received to support the priests. After the farmer gave away the 10% to the Levites, 10% of the remaining yield was brought by the entire household to their local sanctuary where they consumed that tithe while rejoicing in God's presence. In the third and sixth year of the cycle, the tithe would be kept within the community and given to the poor. So, essentially, tithes served three functions: they supported those who maintained the running of the community, they ensured that individual households set aside and appreciated their “earnings” in connection and celebration of God, and they ensured that the vulnerable people in the community were seen after.

After considering these three purposes of tithing, I made a commitment to dedicate 10% of my salary to God by giving·tzedakah to those individuals and organisations who needed it. It was not an easy decision, and—in fact—I worked my way up to it, particularly as I was saddled with student debt from graduate school. I thought to myself, “This feels like a lot!” But then I thought of the countless individuals who probably lived on less than·my 10% per month. Each month I received my pay check I set aside a bit more and wrote a cheque to this cause or that one. I was also very aware that givingtzedakah should not be completely painless, and by stretching myself to give a bit more than I was comfortable, it helped me to better empathise with those who were probably feeling much more of a pinch in my wallet than I was by giving. Honestly, with each passing month, I began to look forward to getting out my chequebook and deciding who I could give my money to. And--looking back--my first record purchase probably doesn't mean nearly as much to me as how I've been able to give to others. I look back on Donny Osmond now and think, how wonderful that someone's faith guides them to put their money where it counts. I feel like Judaism has done that for me, too. In the end I think Stephen Schwartz says it best:

So how do you measure the worth of a man--

in wealth or strength or size?

in how much he gained or how much he·gave?

--the answer will come to him who tries to look at his life through heaven's eyes.

--from ”Through Heaven's Eyes”, by Stephen Schwartz and Hans Zimmer, 1998.