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Sunday, August 04, 2013

Maaser Sheini - Maintaining the Connection

We are familiar with the concept of Maaser Sheini. You take your tithe, bring it, or its monetary value to Jerusalem, and let it here, in the presence of the Bais Hamikdash.

We do the same with Maaser Beheimah – we tithe our animals, bring them up to Jerusalem, and eat them there.

Why? What do we gain by taking our meals in the presence of the Bais Hamikdash?

The Chinuch (360) offers some insight. He explains that Hashem wants all of His nation to be close to Him, Torah scholars and devout. However, He realizes that due to human nature, for the majority of the population this is an impossibility. They must support their families, earn a living, and that can take them to places that are not centers of Torah and bastions of piety.

However, in Jerusalem, the seat of the Sanhedrin and the place of the Kohanim, there is nothing to do but study His ways and learn His Torah. Therefore Hashem commanded that we travel periodically to Jerusalem, spend some time there and engage in study and prayer, whilst being supported by the food we brought along.

This way, explains the Chinuch, not just every region or city, but every household will have at least one member who is well versed in Torah, who can impart of his newly found wisdom to his family and elevate the spiritual level of the entire home.

The Meshech Chochmah (Shemos 23:16), gives us a beautiful understanding of the mitzvah of being Oleh Regel, the thrice yearly pilgrimage to Jerusalem. He explains that Hashem is connected to Klal Yisrael, of which each Jew is a vital part, a limb. However, it is impossible for each Jew to fully cleave to Hashem on an ongoing basis, since they are busy and distracted with the travails of day to day life. However, just as a limb is not considered halachically disconnected from an animal (for the purposes of tumah) until it is unable to be reattached, so too every Jew, so long as they have the potential to connect are considered connected. The way to maintain that connection, to preserve the ability to connect, is by actually connecting periodically. This, explains the Meshech Chochmah, is one of the goals of the pilgrimage.

This idea is really clear in the Sifri, explained by Tosfos (Bava Basra 21a). The verse puzzlingly states that one should bring Maaser to Jerusalem למען תלמד ליראה so as to learn to fear Hashem. The Sifri expounds: Maaser was only given to us so as to engender Torah Study and Fear of Heaven. The Netziv
(Haamek Daver Devarim 14:23) explains that it is impossible to eat all the Maaser during the Chag itself, and therefore he will stay on in Jerusalem, and during that time will study and grow spiritually.  (He adds that at the very least he will leave the food behind to support Torah Scholars, which will also help Torah grow).

So we now understand the goal of Maaser Sheini – to get us to Jerusalem, to put aside our earthly pursuits for a little while and focus on our spiritual development.

And now that we have no Bais Hamikdash and we don’t have the opportunity to bring Maaser, what is our vehicle for connection? The answer lies on a second interpretation of Chazal (Yevamos 93a): “Learning to Fear God” which the Torah states as the goal of Maaser, refers to Shabbos and Yom Tov.

The Meshech Chochmah (Devarim 14:23) explains: When observing the Kohanim and scholars in Jerusalem, it’s difficult to find commonality with them. As working folk, we don’t have the luxury that they do to focus on learning and spiritual growth on a full time basis. To that the verse tells us – Shabbos and Yom Tov is your time! You’re not working, you have the opportunity to focus on your growth, that’s when you should apply the lessons learnt from the Kohanim.

May we use our time wisely, and have the opportunity to internalize the lessons of Maaser Sheini.

Posted on 08/04 at 08:21 AM • Permalink
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Meet Rabbi Tzvi Hirsch Haber

Rabbi Tzvi Hirsch HaberRabbi Tzvi Hirsch Haber is sought after by all who know him for his Halachic and practical advice. His keen ability to put complicated matters into a digestible perspective coupled with his ability to get the facts, make him the perfect blogger to help us all “Do It Right”.

A native of Buffalo, NY, Rabbi Tzvi Hirsch Haber spent his childhood globetrotting with his family. His pioneering spirit first surfaced in Melbourne, Australia, where he was excited to be a member of the opening class of Mesivta Bnei Torah. From Australia the Haber family settled down in Monsey, NY. Ever the maverick, Tzvi promptly left home to study in Yeshiva Ohr Hameir in Peekskill, where he became a mainstay of the Yeshiva, and inspired his younger brothers as well as several friends from the Mesivta in Melbourne to follow him. He then joined his chaburah in Jerusalem, first at the Mir Yeshiva and then at the Bais Medrash of Rav Dovid Soloveitchik, a senior scion of the famed Brisk dynasty. As his globetrotting family returned to Jerusalem, Tzvi returned to the US, to freeze in the famed, yet comparatively chilled Beth Medrash Govoha of Lakewood.

 In 2004 he met his wife, Suzanne Schor, a native of the warmer Los Angeles climate, and the couple settled in Lakewood, where he focused his pioneering and independent strengths on the study of Halacha, or Jewish law. His innovative spirit and innate ability to help others seeking to clarify the finer points of Judaism and integrate them into their daily lives inspired his decision to commute daily from Lakewood to the Lower East Side of Manhattan in order to bask in the day to day exposure to the world renowned Posek, HaRav David Feinstein. The daily commute was more than compensated for when he received Semicha from Rav Feinstien and the Kollel L’Torah U’lhorah (a division of Mesivta Tifereth Jerusalem) in Tamuz 5768, June 2008.

In August 2009, the Habers moved west, heading toward Los Angeles where Rabbi Haber joined the LINK-LA Kollel. After being an active member of the Kollel for several years, he joined the business world, however he is still actively involved in teaching and learning in LA.

Actively involved in all aspects of TorahLab, Tzvi has taken upon himself a quasi-role as administrator of quality control and has effectively improved and upgraded many of the smaller yet vital details involved in our site. His advice is eagerly sought and gracefully given.

Rabbi Haber is now living in the La Brea section of Los Angeles with his wonderful family. He can be contacted at tzvi@torahlab.org