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Giving Maaser

Taanit, Daf 9, Teachers: Yehudit Epstein & Dena Rock

Tosafot on Maaser

By Susan Suna

The daf starts with Rebbi Yochanan’s explanation of ״עַשֵּׂר תְּעַשֵּׂר״. He states that this verse in 

Devarim (14:22)  is teaching us to do the Mitzvah of taking a tithe [עשר] in order to become wealthy [תתעשר]. Tosafot gives a lengthy explanation on this first line of our daf. First Tosafot quotes the Sifri that includes the Mitzvah of Maaser on all income. It is based on the words in our verse: עשר תעשר “את כל” תבואת זרעך. The words “and all”  add in the requirement to tithe everything that one profits from. There is a three way dispute regarding taking tithes from profits other than from those items listed in the Torah. Tosafot on our daf claims that it is a Torah edict to tithe those items while others claim it is a Rabbinic obligation. The Bach and many others state that this is a good Minhag to follow. 

The second part of Tosafot quotes a Midrash based on the end of our verse
היוצא השדה שנה שנה – You shall set aside every year a tenth part of all the yield of your sowing that is brought from the field (Devarim 14:22) . The Midrash explains that if you will not tithe your field then you will only have what is “brought from the field” which is the tithes that you used to give. Tosafot shares the following case about a rich man who had a field that produced 1000 Kor (measurement equal to 4320000 eggs) a year and he gave 100 Kor Maaser yearly. On his deathbed he told his son to be careful to separate out the 100 Kor as he had done. The first year, the son followed in his fathers footsteps. But the second year, he saw that the Maaser was a large amount so he said that he wouldn’t separate it. That year the field only produced 100 Kor, the Maaser amount. The son was upset.

His relatives, having heard what happened, arrive dressed in white and smiling. He accuses them of rejoicing in his downfall. They respond that they are sorry that he caused himself such a harsh downfall. And they ask him why he didn’t take Maaser. His relatives explain to him that when he gave the Maaser, he was the owner of the field and Hashem was the Kohen whose portion it was to give to the poor. Now that the son didn’t separate the Maaser, Hashem became the owner of the field and the son became the Kohen. If one does not separate the Maaser, he will have only the  Kodshim, ie only the Maaser as it says in Bamidbar 5:10 ואיש את קדשיו לו יהיו

The Midrash that Tosafot brings illustrates the negative side of what Rebbi Yochanan is stating on the daf. Rebbi Yochanan states the positive: If you give Maaser you will become wealthy. In his conversation with his nephew, Rebbi Yochanan tells him that Maaser is the one instance where someone can test Hashem and see if he will become wealthy. In contrast, Tosafot describes a case where someone tested Hashem by not giving Maaser and he lost his wealth. While the son may have seen his father give Maaser each year, and while his father advised him to be careful to give Maaser, the son didn’t fully appreciate the impact keeping this Mitzvah would have on his livelihood. The relatives who are dressed in white, which is a symbol of purity,  are happy in having followed the Torah edict to give Maaser. They explain to the son in detail the importance of Maaser and the relationship between Hashem, the land and the land owner. 


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