Giving ma’aser kesafim, a tenth of one’s income, is the key to wealth * Someone who gave ma’aser and did not merit wealth, evidently gave incorrectly * The tithe money should be directed to institutions or goals that are in line with the donor’s world of values *Giving ma’aser teaches a person proper financial conduct, and consequently, brings a blessing to his business transactions
‘Aser Te’aser’ – In Order to Become Wealthy
In this week’s Torah portion, Parshat Re’eh, we get to learn about the mitzvah of ma’aser kesafim, according to which a tenth of all financial gain should be set aside for supporting Torah students in order to appoint rabbis and teachers, as well as for charity to the poor who are unable to support themselves or with the help of their family, as it is said: ” A tithe shall you tithe [te’aser]” This phrase can be interpreted homiletically: Take a tithe [asser] so that you will become wealthy [titasher] in the merit of the mitzva (Taanit 9a). This wealth is the continuation of the mitzvah, since from any additional profit one earns – he gives another tithe. In addition, there is a Kiddush Hashem (sanctification of God) in that a Jew who observes the Torah receives a visible blessing.
Unfortunately, there are Torah scholars who do not understand this principle, and they instruct their students to despise the value of work and earning a livelihood and as a follow-up to this, they find various heters (halachic permits) to absolve the giving of ma’aser kesafim, or alternatively, calculate educational expenditures improperly as ma’aser kesafim in contradiction to halakha. Thus we find, in practice, many God-fearing people who do not merit to give ma’aser, and barely get by financially, and this is a Chilul Hashem (desecration of God), for in the Torah it is written that those who observe the Torah and mitzvot will be blessed, and the seeming reality is the opposite.
Why is it Permissible to test God with this Mitzvah?
Our Sages said (Ta’anit 9a) that it is permissible to test God in this – that a person regularly sets aside a tithe of all his earnings, and see with his own eyes that he merits becoming rich. And although there is a prohibition against testing God, as it is said:
“You shall not test the Lord your God” (Deuteronomy 6:16),
this is the only mitzvah in which it is permissible to test God, as it is said:
“Bring the full tithe into the storehouse, and let there be food in My House, and thus put Me to the test—said the LORD of Hosts. I will surely open the floodgates of the sky for you and pour down blessings on you” (Malachi 3:10. See Peninei Halakha Likutim Bet 6:8).
The question is why is it possible to test God in this matter? Why is there no harm in the innocence of emunah (faith) in this test?
What is forbidden to Test God?
A: It is forbidden to test God with things that happen in a miraculous way. For example, when there is a dangerously ill person, it is forbidden to give charity and pray excessively for him, and test God to see if He will heal the sick person in response to charity and prayer; rather, we must know that it is impossible for us to understand the full Divine considerations, and we must strengthen our faith in God, that all His guidance is for correction, goodness and blessing.
The fundamental rule in God’s guidance of his world is that for the purpose of man’s tikun (perfection), it is necessary for him to have bechira chofshit (free choice), and consequently, it is impossible for all the righteous to enjoy the good, and all the wicked to suffer. Because if everyone who desecrates Shabbat were to die immediately, there would be no one who would dare to desecrate Shabbat. And if everyone who prays is answered immediately, there would be no one who does not pray. In order for man to develop his talents and choose the good, he must have the possibility of free choice between good and evil, and for sake of this, it is necessary that the world behave according to the laws of nature, and not in a miraculous way. Thus, we find righteous people who suffer from diseases and torment, and wicked people who seem to enjoy the pleasures of this world.
Reward and Punishment in the Torah
However, when the divine blessing comes in the way of nature and logic, it is possible to test God in it. God has taught us in His Torah that He created the world according to laws and logic, and when Israel behaves according to the Torah and the mitzvot, blessing will come to them in a natural way, and they will be blessed financially, overcome their enemies, and live safely in their land. And if they do not listen to the voice of God, and do not keep his mitzvot, the curse will come upon them, as explained in the Torah portions Bechukotai and Ki Tavo, and in the parsha ve’hi’yah im she’mo’ah, and many other Torah portions. However, this promise was made to Clal Yisrael (all of Israel), that if Israel as a whole chooses good, the entire nation of Israel will receive an abundance of blessings, and if they choose evil, the condition of the nation of Israel will deteriorate. And this blessing comes down to the world by means of God in the way of nature and logic. For example, if Israel behaves according to the mitzvot of the Torah honestly and diligently in their work and trade, naturally, their economic situation will improve. And if they behave correctly in the relationship between a man and his wife, in honoring parents and educating the children, they will merit the joy of the home and its blessing, and merit to educate the children in the Torah and in the importance of work. And if they learn Torah and keep Shabbat, they will gain a deeper understanding of their lives, their work, their family and the value of the relationship between man and his fellow man, and out this, the general good will increase (I explain all about this in my book “The Jewish Tradition” 19:17).
However, as mentioned, the fate of the individual depends on his special calling, and as long as the world has not yet reached its rectification – there will be righteous people who are tormented, and wicked people who appear to be enjoying themselves in this world (see in Peninei Halakha: Yamim Nora’im 1, 6-7).
The Uniqueness of Ma’aser Kesafim
The uniqueness of ma’aser kesafim is that the blessing comes through it by way of nature and logic even to an individual, and therefore, it is possible to test God through it. In other words, the blessing comes to the tithe giver by the fact that he invests his full talents and energy in his work, and God sends him a blessing in the work of his hands, as it is said:
“That the Lord your God may bless you in all the work of your hands that you do” (Deuteronomy 14:29).
However, one who is negligent in his work – even though he gives ma’aser kesafim, will not gain wealth. And according to the effort at work, so is the blessing: someone who works like other people, neither lazily nor over-diligently – will receive a mediocre blessing in his mediocre work. Those who work extra diligently, and invest a lot of thought in promoting their business – will be greatly blessed by giving ma’aser kesafim.
The Logic in the Blessing that Comes from Ma’aser Kesafim
As a rule, the blessing comes by giving ma’aser kesafim in two different channels. First, in acquiring the ability to learn to hold back, postpone gratification, and plan for the long term. Secondly, by adding energy and meaning to work. I will expand a bit:
Many simplistically think that a person’s wealth depends on the amount of money he earns, therefore, the more one earns, the richer he will be. However, although profit is an important element, profit depends more on a person’s ability to hold back, delay gratification, save, and invest for the long term. By means of ma’aser kesafim, a person gets used to understanding that it is wrong to spend all his profits on running expenses and luxuries, but before everything, he must donate a tithe to a holy cause. After that, he will learn to use the remaining ninety percent more wisely. For example, a person who is used to giving ma’aser from a young age will not buy an expensive apartment that will make him enslave his good years to pay the loans he took out to buy it. In a gentle and deep process, he will get used to rejecting gratifications, and choose more informed choices, and thus, be able to make the right decision in buying an apartment and a car, and each such decision will have a huge impact on his financial well-being.
The second channel – a person who is used to giving ma’aser learns to appreciate his work, since its purpose is not only to buy daily necessities and luxuries, but to make the world a better place. Thanks to this, in a gradual process, he will appreciate his work more and be fond of it, will be honored to serve people and benefit them, and treat punctuality as a sacred duty, and in this way, be able to add good and blessing to the world through his work. His main joy and happiness will be based on the satisfaction of his work, and not on buying luxuries. Thanks to this, he will be successful in his work, and will not waste his money on luxuries, and in a gradual process, will merit well-being, happiness, and wealth.
Those Who Give Incorrectly
From what I have seen so far, the vast majority of those who give ma’aser kesafim, are blessed with wealth. It is true that there were cases when people approached me who attempted to give ma’aser and were not negligent in their work, yet they did not merit the blessing, the burden of earning a living weighed heavily on their necks, and they came for advice on how to act.
In all of these cases, it turned out that they did not act correctly, and gave their ma’aser for purposes that are not considered charity, such as to relatives to whom it was not appropriate to give charity, and the assistance did them more harm than good, because their distress was due to the fact that they lived in an expensive place and also neglected to be diligent in their work, and “thanks” to the help, they continued not taking responsibility for improving their situation, stayed in the expensive place, and accumulated heavier debts. Had they not been helped, they would have moved to a cheaper place, and in a gradual process, learn to stand on their own feet.
Contributions to Inappropriate Yeshivot
And then, there were those who contributed to a yeshiva that educate their students improperly according to their own worldview, for instance, donors who understood the sacred value of ahavat ha’am (love of the people) and yishuv ha’aretz (settlement of the land), but contributed to a yeshiva that was alienated from all this. Or donors who understood the value of learning sciences, which the Rambam explained were “ma’aseh Bereshit” (an act of Creation), and the Gaon from Vilna said whoever lacks the knowledge of a portion of the secular sciences lacks a hundred portions of knowledge of the Torah, because the Torah and wisdom are harmonious – nevertheless, they contributed to a yeshiva whose heads claim that it is forbidden to study sciences and languages. How could they expect to receive a blessing from a donation to a type of study that denies their outlook on life?!
Just as the Torah commanded that each person should choose to give his terumah and ma’aser tithes to the priests and Levites who guide him and he follows in their path, so should a person contribute to a Yeshiva in which he follows in their path.
Since the blessing of ma’aser comes by way of nature and logic, the tithe should be devoted to purposes that add blessing in the way of nature and logic. If he contributes to yeshivot that raise rabbis and teachers who educate in Torah and science, to yishuv ha’aretz, and to service in the army – the entire nation of Israel will be blessed and exalted. Consequently, the donor also directs his heart to these values, and his life is blessed. And if he contributes to the care of the poor who are unable to work due to physical or mental disability, subsequently he directs his heart to the values of saving and efficiency. However, if he contributes to Torah scholars who, contrary to Torah guidance, do not encourage science and work, yishuv ha’aretz and service in the army – well then, he expects a blessing will come to Israel through a miracle, and consequently, his blessing will not reach them in this way. And even if he claims, contrary to the Rambam’s words, that there is a certain place in the service of God for Torah scholars who do not recognize the value of science and work, the settlement of the land and the army – in any event, the blessing of wealth cannot come from this.
With God’s help, I hope to explain in one of the next columns why in all the mitzvot that bring blessing through nature and logic, such as happiness of the home and keeping Shabbat, one can expect a reward in this world, but on the other hand, it is only permissible to try God with ma’aser kesafim.
This article appears in the ‘Besheva’ newspaper and was translated from Hebrew.