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Ki Tavo

Thursday, 19 September, 2019 - 8:27 pm

 

There is a Mitzvah called “Vidui Maaser” – the confession of the tithes.  What does that mean?  There are several tithe requirements for any farmer in the Land of Israel.  Nowadays that we don’t not have the Holy Temple, the requirements are somewhat different than what I will describe). When the produce was harvested, it was allocated three different ways:

2% for Kohanim called Terumah

10% for the Levites called Maaser

10% was allocated separately

 

This last tithe was not handled the same way every year.  There was a seven-year cycle.  On the first and second years, the second tenth was called Maaser Sheni, and taken to Jerusalem and eaten there by the owner and anyone else he chose to share it with.  The third year this tithe was distributed to the poor.  This three-year cycle was repeated in years four to six.  In year seven there were no tithes, since that is the Sabbatical year and all produce in Israel was considered community property.

 

The Torah tells us in this week’s Parsha that by Pesach of the fourth and seventh years, all tithes had to be distributed and removed from the house.  (I guess procrastination is an ancient human trait.)  Then each farmer would come to the Temple and make his “Confession,” the words of which are written explicitly in the Torah.  Let’s take a look at what this confession was (Devarim 26) .

 

“12. When you have finished tithing all the tithes of your produce in the third year, the year of the tithe, you shall give [them] to the Levite, the stranger, the orphan, and the widow, so that they can eat to satiety in your cities.  13. Then you shall say before the Lord, your God, "I have removed the holy [portion] from the house, and I have also given it to the Levite, the stranger, the orphan, and the widow, according to all Your commandment that You commanded me; I have not transgressed Your commandments, nor have I forgotten [them].  14. I did not eat any of it [second tithe] while in my mourning, nor did I consume any of it while unclean; neither did I use any of it for the dead. I obeyed the Lord, my God; I did according to all that You commanded me.  15. Look down from Your holy dwelling, from the heavens, and bless Your people Israel, and the ground which You have given to us, as You swore to our forefathers a land flowing with milk and honey.”

 

This is a confession?  Imagine if a man turns to his wife on their 40th anniversary and tells her he has a confession to make.  She listens with trepidation, what is the terrible thing she knew nothing about?  He then tells her:  I have been a faithful husband and father.  I have always fulfilled all my promises to you.  I have never strayed from my love for you and have led an exemplary life.  How would she respond?  That is wonderful, but how is that a confession?

 

The following answer is based on a beautiful talk by Rabbi Yosef Jacobson.  In order to truly confess, a person has to know that they are intrinsically good and recognize their strengths.  Someone who identifies as a bad person cannot confess.  Imagine if you are wearing a suit covered in stains, would you care if you get another stain?  If, on the other hand, your suit is clean, you will take care not to get any stains on it and immediately remove any that do come.  If a person considers themselves basically no good, they will give up on trying to do what is right and not be concerned about another sin or another negative act.  In addition, a person who feels negative about themselves cannot admit to doing wrong, and will often find excuses for their wrongdoing.  Another problem is that they feel that they have no control over themselves, so they cannot resolve to change, a critical component of confession. 

 

The Torah is telling us that a true confession can only come from someone who recognizes their qualities that they are essentially a good person with the ability to stand up and proclaim the good they have done. That person will then be able to positively and purposefully fix the problems, freely confess their sins and work to repair the damage and erase the stains.  That’s why this statement of compliance with Torah and giving all the tithes to the poor is called a confession.  Three times in seven years, every landowner had to be able to stand up and say, “I am someone who wants to follow the Torah and fulfil my mission on earth, and if I don’t, it doesn’t mean I am a bad person, it just means I need to face my faults and repair them.”

 

 This is not just hyperbole.  This is the path to teshuva that is effective and true.  Don’t think of yourself as not good enough or not righteous enough to be able to rise to great spiritual heights.  Your soul yearns for it, and your true self really wants it.  It is only our negative self-definition that holds us back.

 

May you be inscribed and sealed for a sweet New Year, you deserve it.

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