bring our study of offerings to a close with a lesson that covers a lot of
ground. First, we’ll consider tithes. These are offerings of a significant
portion of our production to support the sacred enterprise on a steady and
substantial basis. Second, we’ll look at the vows we are prompted to make and
our duties as to fulfilling them. Finally, there is Divine concern about the
care and the manner by which we make offerings.
I. Read Numbers 18:24, 28.
Numbers 18: 24 because I’ve given the Israelites’ one-tenth portion, which they have raised to the Lord as a gift offering, as an inheritance to the Levites. Therefore, I’ve said to them, “They won’t inherit land among the Israelites.” 28 In this way you will also present a gift offering to the Lord from all the one-tenth portions that you take from the Israelites. You will provide from it a gift offering to the Lord for Aaron the priest.
Q1. These and other verses relate to the first tithe. Of what relevance are these practices to us? What’s the intention behind tithing? How does the tithe complement other offerings, and how do we tithe in our modern world?
(First, generally, we do give regularly to support our sacred space and those “priests” and “Levites” who are servants of God and lead us in sacred space, helping facilitate Divine encounter there. As the other tribes supported the “landless” tribe that dedicated itself to service in sacred space in days of old, productive people today support those who now serve in sacred space.
Ten percent? Do we give that much? Should we? Or do taxes today meet some of the needs that were to be addressed by tithes? I’ll refrain from taking us into a discussion whether, if so, that’s for good or bad!
that the Levites support the priests. This continues the idea that we have
already discussed that servants of God then, and perhaps now, also ought in
certain ways to offer of themselves to support sacred space and others who
II. Read Leviticus 27:32, 33.
Leviticus 27: 32 All tenth-part gifts from a herd or flock—every tenth animal that passes under the shepherd’s staff—will be holy to the Lord. 33 The one bringing the tenth-part gift must not pick out the good from the bad, and cannot substitute any animal. But if one should substitute an animal, both it and the substitute will be holy and cannot be bought back.
let’s review what we have here. These mitzvot relate to the second tithe. They
require a setting aside and devotion of a tenth of essentially the remainder of
the harvest and, importantly, the herd and the flock. This tithe (or its value,
as discussed below) was to be brought to Jerusalem in the first, second, fourth,
and fifth years of each seven-year cycle, when the Temple was standing. While
the fat and blood of the animals were offered to God, the owner and companions
consumed the meat and other foods in celebration.
The owner could make the choice to redeem the produce, convert the value to money, add a fifth, and devote the proceeds to food and drink to be consumed by the owner, friends, and others in Jerusalem.
In the third and sixth years of the cycle, these tithes were instead used to provide for the needs of the Levite, the sojourner, the orphan, and the widow. In those years, this tithe was considered the poor man’s tithe.
A. Whether Christian or Jew, we will not, at the surface level, be doing such things today. But do you have ideas about the underlying purposes of these mitzvot and how they might guide our values and practice today?
(There appears to be an important idea in the four years of the cycle that we have and participate in grand communal celebrations in the city or area of our sacred space, near or in those places where we principally encounter the Divine.
In eating, drinking, and making merry together, people bond with each other and develop and strengthen their ties and friendship. They come out of obedience to God, with joy, and a shared sense with others of gratitude for God’s beneficence. A great bounty was brought, and all shared in the rejoicing in and around sacred space.
Moreover, this period of celebration permitted pilgrims to experience the spiritual, intellectual, and religious richness of Jerusalem so that they could return home with learning and spirituality that could benefit them and their communities on an enduring basis throughout the year. Plus, it created an expectation that all, including many who were not regularly touched by the experience of religious enlightenment and inspiration, would be brought regularly into its flow.
B. How and why might we do such things today?
(We could annually have, say, a fortnight of celebrations in our churches or synagogues with gatherings of fine food, fellowship, learning, and inspiration. There we could make, renew, and strengthen friendships. We could encourage all to join in and bring many guests as well. We could host some of the great scholars, thinkers, and practitioners of our faith to teach, enlighten, and inspire us to live more fully in the Way. Perhaps we would commit to carry on the momentum of such activities throughout the year in our own communities and homes (and selves).
At a spiritual level, purely, might we also ponder the possibility of bringing resources in major ways and on a periodic basis to our internal sacred space, where all the component parts of ourselves could congregate in much the same manner?)
C. As to the poor man’s tithe in the intervening years, how might we give life to this idea?
tithe would obviously consist of abundant resources raised from throughout our
community. Plus we would have considerable time to plan the manner and means of
its deployment. We could be driven here to plan carefully and effectively to
make the greatest difference in our use of these resources to distribute to and
for those in need, principally in relieving hunger. The ancient inclination is
primarily to make sure the poor are fed.
III. We’ll have a discussion of the importance of mindfulness and care in the giving of tithes and the making of vows. I’ll refer to some verses, but we won’t expressly read them. But we will explore a few questions about vows.
mitzvot essentially teach us to be extremely mindful about the seriousness of
tithing and to take care to account for and declare what is to be tithed. While
we won’t study these verses here in greater detail, I do want to make a
concluding point. We see in both tithes the Divine desire that we use a
considerable portion of the resources with which we have been blessed to
support Divine encounter in sacred space, the strengthening of bonds with
others in our community and beyond, and acts of love and righteousness to help
those who are in greatest need.
this manner, we sustain the sacred and expand the sacred out into and
throughout the world. Isn’t this absolutely consistent with, and in furtherance
of, the Divine expectations of love of God and love of others? Isn’t this
exactly the sort of thing a kingdom of priests and a holy nation would do?
IV. Read Leviticus 22: 21–22.
Leviticus 22: 21 Whenever someone presents a communal sacrifice of well-being to the Lord from the herd or flock whether it is payment for a solemn promise or a spontaneous gift, it must be flawless to be acceptable; it must not have any imperfection. 22 You must not present to the Lord anything that is blind or that has an injury, mutilation, warts, a rash, or scabs. You must not put any such animal on the altar as a food gift for the Lord.
Why does it matter that our offerings be without blemish? What does this requirement mean in our own time with the offerings we make?
(As Maimonides teaches, we should present our best efforts each time we make offerings to God and for the benefit of our fellow men - the best food, the best clothes, the best in our houses of worship, the best in our thought, prayer, and attention to the Divine. If we’re to be holy as God is holy, both in sacred space and outside, how would imperfect offerings fit in?
Hirsch adds the idea that this requirement is akin to the notion that we serve
God with wholehearted devotion and commitment. We are willing to diminish the
self to glorify God and God’s purposes. On the other hand, a blemish in an
offering would represent a flaw in that aspiration.)
V. Read Deuteronomy 23:18.
Deuteronomy 23:18 Don’t bring a female prostitute’s fee or a male prostitute’s payment to the Lord your God’s temple to pay a solemn promise because both of these things are detestable to the Lord your God.
Q5. In addition to being blemish-free, what other qualitative characteristics ought to be true of the offerings we make and the manner in which we make them?
offerings should not be tainted. Giving proceeds from unethical, sinful, or
harmful activity is displeasing to God and, thus, unacceptable. We can’t think
that it all becomes okay if we “give it up to God.” As we have studied so
poignantly in the Prophets, God cares far more that we live our lives with
justice and mercy than our merely showing up with sacrifices, especially if our
doing so involves artifice, hypocrisy, or taint. The purity of thought and deed
of the one who brings an offering and who hopes to come nearer to holiness in
the offering is crucial here. When one brings an offering, one should do so
with pure thoughts and ethically clean hands.
What are our major takeaways as we leave this exploration of sacred space and
the important encounters we experience there?