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Parashat Ki Tavo: Bi'ur and viduy ma'aserot and mitzvot between man and fellow man

Parashat Ki Tavo: Bi'ur and viduy ma'aserot and mitzvot between man and fellow man

About the misperception with regard to mitzvot bein adam lachaviero; the mitzvah of bi'ur viduy ma'aserot; and the etrog from Caesarea—three halachot about this wonderful city.

Yoel Yakoby

כִּי תְכַלֶּה לַעְשֵׂר אֶת כָּל מַעְשַׂר תְּבוּאָתְךָ בַּשָּׁנָה הַשְּׁלִישִׁת שְׁנַת הַמַּעֲשֵׂר, וְנָתַתָּה לַלֵּוִי לַגֵּר לַיָּתוֹם וְלָאַלְמָנָה וְאָכְלוּ בִשְׁעָרֶיךָ וְשָׂבֵעוּ. וְאָמַרְתָּ לִפְנֵי ה' אֱלֹקיךָ בִּעַרְתִּי הַקֹּדֶשׁ מִן הַבַּיִת, וְגַם נְתַתִּיו לַלֵּוִי וְלַגֵּר לַיָּתוֹם וְלָאַלְמָנָה כְּכָל מִצְוָתְךָ אֲשֶׁר צִוִּיתָנִי, לֹא עָבַרְתִּי מִמִּצְו‍ֹתֶיךָ וְלֹא שָׁכָחְתִּי

When you have set aside in full the tenth part of your yield—in the third year, the year of the tithe—and have given it to the Levite, the stranger, the orphan, and the widow, that they may eat their fill in your settlements. You shall declare before the Hashem your G-d: “I have cleared out the consecrated portion from the house; and I have given it to the Levite, the stranger, the orphan, and the widow, just as You commanded me; I have neither transgressed nor neglected any of Your commandments. (Devarim 26:12–13)

"Social" mitzvot versus "real" mitzvot?

There is a subconscious attitude prevalent among religious Jews that the mitzvot between man and G-d (bein adam lamakom) are the "real mitzvot," while the mitzvot between man and fellow man (bein adam lachaveiro), are "social" mitzvot—that we should observe in a general sense, but don't need to be meticulous about the details. It seems that the root of this misconception lies in the inherent difference between these two types of mitzvot. With the mitzvot of bein adam lachaveiro, the benefit derived from the mitzvah is felt immediately, that is, its contribution to making the world a better place. People who consider their immediate personal benefit, and the reward they will receive for it in the World to Come, generally assume that since they derive benefit from the mitzvah here in this world, it comes at the expense of their reward in the World to Come. Some might even think that there is no eternal reward for these mitzvot at all.

It is precisely against this misconception that Christianity came out against. Christianity, which professed that the ultimate mission is to rectify the world, nullified most of the mitzvot bein adam lamakom. In this way, it ignored the tremendous value of the mitzvot bein adam lamakom, not only in terms of personal benefit, but also their value in rectifying the world at large.

The benefit of mitzvot bein adam lachavero sheds light on the rectification latent in mitzvot bein adam lamakom

The truth is, of course, that the mitzvot bein adam lachaveiro are "real" mitzvot for all intents and purposes; there are often many intricate halachot that they involve, just like the laws governing Shabbat and kashrut, and their eternal reward does not necessarily fall short of the mitzvot bein adam lamakom. On the other hand, someone who fully observes the mitzvot bein adam lamakom contributes tremendously to tikun olam as well, even if their impact is not seen or felt tangibly or immediately, as is the case with the mitzvot bein adam lachavero. On the other hand, mitzvot bein adam lachavero can serve as a tangible example of the true impact of the mitzvot bein adam lamakom, so we can understand that they also make the world a better place. Furthermore, the rectification we accomplish when performing mitzvot bein adam lachavero goes far beyond what meets the eye, much more than the assistance we provide a poor person from the charity we give, for instance.

Bi'ur ma'aserot: completing the bein adam lachavero component

The mitzvot of terumot and ma'aserot include components of both bein adam lamakom and bein adam lachaveiro. On the one hand, failing to separate some of the gifts makes all of the produce forbidden to eat (teruma and ma'aser sheni); eating certain gifts is not only considered stealing from kohanim, but one would also liable for death if eaten intentionally, or fined (chomesh, one-fifth) if eaten unintentionally (terumot and bikurim). On the other hand, terumot and ma'aserot are meant to be a source of income for those who do not have sufficient sources of income: kohanim, levi'im, and the poor, which is obviously the bein adam lacheveiro aspect of these mitzvot.

The act of separating the gifts from one's produce fulfills the core bein adam lamakom obligation. The produce then is still considered the owner's property and the owner can technically eat it without a problem. However, the bein adam lachaveiro component of the mitzvah cannot be fulfilled when the gifts are just sitting there, without delivering them to their proper destinations. The mitzvah of bi'ur ma'aserot, removing the ma'aserot from one's domain, ensures that we also perform the next stage. Perhaps it is for this reason that after all of the gifts have been removed from one's domain and reach their proper destinations, that the text of the viduy ma'aserot sates that these gifts have been delivered to the "Levite, convert, orphan, and widow."

The gift given to the levi is ma'aser rishon, while the gifts given to the poor (the orphan, widow, and convert) are ma'aser ani, as well as all of the matanot ani'im at earlier stages of the harvest (leket, shichecha, pe'ah, peret, and olelot). The common denominator for ma'aser rishon and ma'aser ani, along with the other matanot ani'im, is that they are all bein adam lachaveiro; there are no sanctions against those who fail to deliver the gifts to the correct people (besides the prohibition against theft). The produce is not forbidden for consumption, and if the produce is eaten there is no death penalty or fine.

The "severe" gifts: just hinted

The gifts that carry severe sanctions vis-à-vis bein adam lamakom—the ones that involve the death penalty or fines (teruma and bikurim), as well as those that cause the produce to be forbidden (teruma and ma'aser sheni)—are just hinted at in the Torah. Chazal (in the last chapter of tractate ma'aser sheni) extrapolate from the phrase "gam netativ" (I also gave it) that this is a reference to terumot, and from the words "bi'arti hakodesh" that this is a reference to ma'aser sheni and neta revay. However, it is clear that it is impossible to observe the mitzvah of bi'ur ma'aserot and read the viduy ma'aserot unless one performs the mitzvah in its entirety—both the bein adam lamakom and bein adam lachaveiro aspects. Thus, our request at the end of the viduy is: "Look down from Your holy abode, from heaven, and bless Your people Israel and the soil You have given us, a land flowing with milk and honey, as You swore to our fathers" (Devarim 26:15). And this cannot come to fruition unless all of the components of the mitzvah are fulfilled in their entirety.

The Caesarian Etrog

If one sends [produce], whether to an am ha'aretz or to a colleague (chaver), one needs to tithe ... Raban Shimon ben Gamliel says: there was an instance when Rabi Yossi sent me a large etrog from Tzipori, and said: "This came in my hand from Caesarea." And I learned three things from this: that it was certainly [untithed], that it was ritually impure, and that this was the only etrog he had, since if he had another [etrog] he would have tithed from it to exempt this [etrog]. (Tosefta Demay 3:14)

Etrogim from Caesarea are subject to ma'aserot

Untithed produce is called tevel. The Tosefta says that it is forbidden to give someone else definitely untithed produce, tevel vaday (as explained by Rabbi Shaul Lieberman, ibid.); one may only send such produce after tithing. This law is true regardless whether one is sending it to an am ha'aretz (who will certainly separate teruma, but not necessarily ma'aserot) or to a colleague (who will definitely separate both). Raban Shimon ben Gamliel maintains that only if one is sending produce to an am ha'aretz does one have to separate terumot and ma'aserot beforehand, since he is unreliable. If sending to a college, however, it is unnecessary to tithe; it is sufficient to notify the friend that the produce is untithed and that terumot and ma'aserot need to be taken.

Raban Shimon ben Gamliel cites an anecdote that supports his argument. Once Rabi Yossi (it seems this is a reference to Rabi Yossi ben Chalafta, since he was a resident of Tzipori) sent him an etrog and told him that it came from Caesarea, instructing him to tithe it. It seems that even back then citrus trees were grown along Israel's coastal plain (the Jaffa citrus brand of recent generations can certainly attest to this). Raban Shimon ben Gamliel learns from the words of Rabi Yossi, and especially since it was an etrog from Caesarea, three things.

First, this was an etrog that was definitely untithed, since if it had not been so, if would have been forbidden to send it untithed. Rabi Yossi maintains (Mishna Demay 3:3) that it is only permissible to send untithed tevel vaday, since we are not concerned that the friend will be derelict in tithing; if there is a doubt about the tithed status of the produce, however, the fruit or vegetable should not be sent before tithing. From the fact that this etrog was tevel vaday, we learn that Caesarea enjoys the status of the Land of Israel regarding terumot and ma'aserot, since its fruit is definitely subject to terumot and ma'aserot (this halacha was changed in the following generation, when Rabi Yehuda HaNasi, son of Rabi Shimon ben Gamliel, exempted Caesarea from ma'aserot).

Second, Raban Shimon ben Gamliel learned from Rabi Yossi's statement is that the etrog could receive ritual impurity (fruit cannot receive impurity unless one of seven liquids are poured on them after they are picked). This is because the Caesarians would rinse the etrogim with water to improve their appearance.

Third, Raban Shimon understood that this was the only etrog Rabi Yossi had, since otherwise Rabi Yosi would have taken terumot and ma'aserot from a different etrog to exempt the one he sent. The halacha, though, is not like Rabi Yossi; it is forbidden to send produce that is tevel vaday even to someone we know is meticulous in taking terumot and ma'aserot (Rambam, Hilchot Ma'aser  6:6).

History of Caesarea

Caesarea was established in the 1 Century BCE by Herod the Great on the ruins of a more ancient settlement called Stratonos pyrgos (Straton's Tower), situated on the beach south of Dor. The city was meant to serve as a center for the gentile population, upon which the rule of Herod—bitterly hated by his fellow Jews—was largely based. The city was named after his patron, Caesar Augustus, and a sophisticated port was built there along with temples for idol worship to cater to the local non-Jewish residents. Herod's palace was also built there, besides his palaces in Jerusalem and other locations.

Following Herod's death, and the end of the remainder of Jewish autonomy in Judea, the Roman governors lived in Caesarea and it became the administrative capital of the Land of Israel. It was in Caesarea that Rabi Akiva was executed (according to one tradition, on Yom Kippur), and the neighboring town Or Akiva, built shortly after the establishment of the State of Israel, is named after him.

Despite the city's gentile character, the city also had a Jewish population. Friction between the Jews and gentiles in the city served as the trigger for the outbreak of the Great Rebellion, which culminated with the destruction of the Second Temple.

Later on, the city was home to Rabi Abahu, one of the leading Amora'im of the Land of Israel. Besides the many halachot cited in his name in both the Babylonian and Jerusalem Talmuds, Rabi Abahu was also involved in answering the questions on religion and faith of his Christian neighbors, whose religion had become the dominant religion of the Roman Empire. Modern Caesarea was founded as an initiative by the Rothschild family, and today it is considered an upscale area. Nearby is the Caesarea National Garden, featuring the remains of the historic city and ancient port.