Tithe After Tithe: Behukotai 2022

by Adam J. Rosenbaum

Pre-Game Chatter: How much do you tip workers at restaurants or delivery services? Do you think a person’s philosophy on tips says something about their character? Would you prefer the American system of tipping be discarded in favor of the European practice (in which gratuity is automatically included in the listed price)?

While a tip and a tithe are two different things, our Torah portion’s discussion of tithing feels like a familiar discussion of what we give to show our appreciation:

The Pitch: “All tithes of the herd or flock — of all that passes under the shepherd’s staff, every tenth one — shall be holy to the Lord.” – Leviticus 27:32

Swing #1: “Jacob wished to cross the Jabbok ford but he was held up there. The angel said to him, ‘This is not as you had promised, ‘I will give a tenth to You’ [Genesis 28:22]. …The angel said further to Jacob: ‘Do you not also have sons from whom you have not given me a tithe?’ What did Jacob do? He set aside the four firstborns of the four mothers, leaving eight sons. He began from Simeon and ended with Benjamin, who was then still in his mother’s womb. Then he began again from Simeon and ended with Levi, and Levi turned out to be the tenth, holy to the Lord, as it is said, ‘the tenth part will be holy to the Lord.’” – Pirkei d’Rabbi Eliezer

Swing #2: “This is the ‘second tithe,’ one-tenth of the farmer’s produce. The rationale is that the whole world belongs to Adonai, and the people are His tenant. The ten percent, the tithe that the farmer dedicated to Adonai, is rent for the use of His land.” – Sol Scharfstein, Torah and Commentary: The Five Books of Moses

Swing #3: “In this instance the word ‘holy’ means that its blood and the usual fat parts are offered as a sacrifice on the altar. The meat may be eaten by the owners, [but] it is not given to the priests. The reason is that the animal tithes are not part of the 24 categories of gifts for the priests listed in Numbers.” – Rabbeinu Bahya

Late-Inning Questions: How do our commentators understand the significance of tithing every tenth animal to God? Does the meaning seem more literal or symbolic? Does a requirement to show appreciation seem inauthentic?

On-Deck at TBT: As time passes since the shooting at the Tops supermarket, we must resist the tendency to reduce our acts of care and concern. Let’s continue reaching out to the community on the East Side of Buffalo — here is an updated list of resources.

The Big Inning at the End: Speaking of tips, many professional athletes negotiate for contracts with lucrative bonuses for reaching milestone achievements. Should a salary be incentive enough to perform well? Or do specific goals help to inspire peak performance?

Shabbat Shalom!