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Shabbat Parashat R'ei 5774

Parashat Hashavua: To Learn to Fear

Harav Shaul Yisraeli based on Siach Shaul, p. 509-510

In discussing the mitzva of bringing ma’aser sheni to Yerushalayim, the Torah writes “… in order that you should learn to fear” (Devarim 14:23). What is this learning, which results not in knowledge but in the emotion of fear? Also, what is the need to learn in such a manner, considering that at least mature Torah observers ostensibly already fear Hashem?

 The truth is that the process of learning is never completed, and there is never a point at which it is no longer possible to progress. Judaism declares war on superficiality: “You shall not stray after your heart and your eyes” (Bamidbar 15:39). The eyes entice us to believe that what they see exists the way they perceive it. The corollary is that what they do not see and we cannot identify with any of our other senses does not exist. That is the reason that the world had difficulty accepting the existence of a spirit, the World to Come, and even the Creator. Even if someone accepts those things, he is liable to attribute to them less significance than he does to the physical world, which he experiences.

Does a person have a life outside the life of eating, drinking, and resting? Can he have aspirations that go beyond such physical experiences?

A religious Jew believes that everything is determined from Above and that his efforts will succeed only if it coincides with the Divine Will. Therefore, he fulfills mitzvot in order that he should succeed in life. Chazal taught, through a play on words from our parasha, “Give tithes in order that you will become rich” (Ta’anit 9a). Our parasha teaches: Lend money “so that due to this, Hashem will bless you” (Devarim 15:10). While he may do those good acts because he believes in Hashem and His Torah, what is his goal in acting as he does? It is liable to be the same ultimate motivation that a non-believer has. After all, if the non-believer in Hashem were somehow convinced that he would get rich by giving charity, he would do so as well. This is what the Torah hints at when warning a person not to say “How do these nations serve their gods, and I will do the same myself.” In other words, it is not that we will serve their gods, but that we will be motivated to serve Hashem with the same aspirations of the non-Jews.

For this purpose, the mitzva of ma’aser sheni comes to educate us. You do not give the ma’aser to someone else but to oneself. Go on a vacation, just do it in the place Hashem chose: Yerushalayim. The person arrives with holy money with the intent to enjoy himself. He sees the kohanim and levi’im, those who are supported by his other tithes. He may think that they have to treat him with respect for that. However, when he sees the kohanim and levi’im at their glorious posts in the service of Hashem, with spiritual goals on their minds, he understands properly.

This is where the bringer of ma’aser sheni learns to fear. The values he sees are different than the toil he exerts during the course of the year. Ma’aser sheni is great for it leads to study (Sifrei, Devarim 106). He stays in Yerushalayim until he finishes his ma’aser sheni and sees others involved in the service of Hashem. He decides to concentrate on serving Hashem, fear of Hashem, and Torah study (see Tosafot, Bava Batra 21).

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