When you finish tithing your crops during the third year, the year of tithing, and you give to the Levite, the foreigner, the orphan, and the widow, and they eat within your gates and are satisfied; you shall say before the Eternal, your God: “I have removed all the sanctified foods from my house, and I have given to the Levite, the foreigner, the orphan, and the widow, according to all that You have commanded me. I have not transgressed Your commandments and I have not forgotten… Look from Your holy abode from the heavens, and bless Your people Israel, and the land that You gave us, as You swore to our ancestors, a land flowing with milk and honey” (Devarim 26:12-15)

The Torah lists three maasrot, or tithes, each to be done every three years. The first is maaser levi, the tithe for the Levites, who, in turn, would tithe that donation for the priests (Bamidbar 18:21-22).  The following year, people would take maaser sheni, the second tithe, for which people would take money that they had sanctified to Jerusalem, and they would eat and drink there as a religious act (Devarim 14:22-29). This week’s parashah mentions the third tithe, maaser ani, the tithe for the poor (Devarim 26:12-15).

The mitzvah to take maaser ani is taught immediately after the mitzvah of bikurim, to bring the first fruits of one’s field in a basket to the priest in Jerusalem.

We can learn something by associating each maaser with one of the Shalosh Regalim, the three holidays of Pesach, Shavuot, and Sukkot.

Pesach is easily linked to maaser ani, the tithe for the poor. Time and again, the Torah reminds us that we should act kindly and justly towards the stranger, the widow, and the orphan because we were strangers in the land of Egypt. During our Pesach seder, we raise up the matzah and say “Ha lachma anya, this is the bread of poverty.” We say “All who are hungry, come and eat.” We tithe to the poor, then, because as slaves, we knew poverty ourselves.

Shavuot is the time of receiving the Torah. As the rabbis teach us that Torah study has replaced sacrifices in our day, we give to ensure the continuity of avodat hakodesh, of holy service. We are reminded to not only learn Torah, but to live Torah.

Sukkot is zman simchateynu, the time of our joy. The Talmud refers to Sukkot as “hachag”, “The Holiday.” As we are commanded to feast and rejoice before God during the second year, we are also commanded to be happy and rejoice on Sukkot.

These three elements are part and parcel of most Jewish holiday celebrations. We remember to give tzedakkah, we celebrate, and we study Torah. A healthy mix of kindness, joy, and intellectual discipline are the essence of Judaism. Torah gives us ways to cultivate all three of these qualities. We are to celebrate life, especially during all three of our holidays. We are to study Torah, especially on all those holidays. We are to give tzedakkah, especially in advance of those holidays.

Let the three holidays, the Shalosh Regalim, guide us as models for living throughout the year. As we approach Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur, let us keep in mind the ways that those Days of Awe can prepare us for Sukkot, the Time of Our Joy.

Shabbat Shalom!

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