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August 25, 1995 - Image 30

Resource type:
The Detroit Jewish News, 1995-08-25

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What It Means
To Be A Jew



n this week's sedrah, Re'e among
a variety of other mitzvot is the
commandment of "Maasar
Sheni," the second tithe.
The farmer, after distributing
parts of his crops to the Kohen
and Levi, must take 10 percent
to Jerusalem and consume it
there (or take its value and buy
food to consume there).
The Torah says about this
obligation "in order that you will
learn to be God-fearing always"
(Deut. 14:23).
In fact, this is one of four times
that the Torah tells us that a par-
ticular mitzvah will teach us to be
God-fearing people. Another is the
mitzvah of "Hakhayl": Every sev-
en years the people are command-
ed to assemble in Jerusalem to hear
the king read the Torah ... in or-
der that they will hear and in or-
der that they will learn and will
fear the Lord your God..." (Deut.
31:2) and "... they will hear and
learn to fear the Lord your God all
of the days..." (Duet. 31:13).
Thirdly, the king is com-
manded to write a special Torah
and it should be with him and
he should read it all the days of
his life in order that he will learn
to fear the Lord his God..." (Duet.
17:19). In the fourth instance, we
are bidden to remember and to
teach our children about the day
we stood at Sinai about which
God said "I will let them hear my
words that they may learn to fear
Me all of the days..." (Deut. 4:10).
Each of the last three cases is
readily understandable; through
the experience of Sinai, God's rev-
elation to the Jewish people, and
through the study and under-
standing of the Torah (either pri-
vately — as the king, or publically
— as with Hakhayl) the Jew can
learn to understand and appreci-
ate his relationship to his Creator
and the consequent responsibili-
ties and obligations. It is with the
mitzvah of Maasar Sheni that the
result in learning to be God-fear-
ing seems puzzling. Why should
taking the tithe to Jerusalem and
eating it there resulting learning
to be God-fearing anymore than
with any other mitzvah that we
as Jews must perform?
It seems to me that it is pre-
cisely through the mitzvah of
Maaser Sheni that a Jew can
learn to recognize and appreciate
what it really means to be a Jew,
a member of God's holy nation,
with special duties and respon-
sibilities to God, to his fellow Jew
and to all mankind. The obliga-
tion of Maaser Sheni bids the
farmer to remain in Jerusalem
until his tithe is consumed. It is
during his stay in Jerusalem, the






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John E. Jacobs, President

center of Jewish life, that he is
exposed to the life of sanctity that
the Torah mandates.
Assuming that the Torah were
kept in the proper manner, he
would find himself in an environ-
ment so impressive, so over-
whelming, that he could not but be
influenced. Imagine a lifestyle with
a perfect balance of dedication to
one's maker and at the same time
dedication to one's fellow man.
Imagine a life in which the real
world and the normal human be-
havior are imbued with a sanctity
and a purpose of divine dimensions.
Imagine a spirit of deep love and
real concern and mutual respect
underlying all interpersonal rela-
tionships. Imagine a community
striving for justice and truth, for
knowledge and understanding, for
right and goodness.

Shabbat Re'e
Deuteronomy 1
Numbers 28:9-15
Isaiah 66:1-24
I Samuel 20:18, 42.

The farmer, then, free from the
duties back home would spend
whatever time he could, living off
the tithe, experiencing the true
application of the Divine Torah
as a concrete, living, experiential
reality. How could he not be im-
pressed and influenced to become
more God-fearing?
Alas, such a vision is just that,
a vision, not reality. The obser-
vance of our Torah is not com-
prehensive, nor is it widespread.
In fact, the vast majority of Jews
are not even aware of the won-
derful potential inherent in the
Torah and in the Jewish people.
It is incumbent upon the Torah
observant to live in such a way
as to demonstrate the glory of the
Torah and it is necessary for
those who are not observant to
learn more about what the Torah
really is. Thereby, perhaps, one
day we will be the God-fearing,
holy nation described in the
Torah: "And now, Israel, what
does the Lord and your God ask
of you, but to fear (be in awe of)
the Lord your God, to go in all His
ways, and to love Him and to
serve the Lord your God with all
of your heart and all of your soul.
to keep the commandments of
the Lord and His statutes which
I command you today for your
good." (Deut. 10:12, 13).
Eliezer Cohen is rabbi of Young
Israel of Oak-Woods

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