The end of Parshat Bechukotai (27:32-33) describes the law of Maaser Beheimah, the tithing of kosher animals – cattle, sheep and goats. Each year, the farmer is required to designate every tenth newborn animal as holy. The farmer would then bring these Maaser animals to Yerushalayim, where he and his family would eat them. The Eimurim, fatty portions, were burnt completely to Hashem, and the blood was sprinkled on the altar. The rest of each animal was for the consumption of the owner; none of it was given to the Kohanim. This raises an interesting question: if a Maaser animal was to be enjoyed solely by the owner, what was the purpose of requiring that it could be eaten only in Yerushalayim?
The Gemara in Bechorot (58a) specifies three dates on which Maaser Beheimah was to be brought to Yerushalayim: the last day of the month of Adar, the 35th day of the Omer, and the last day of the month of Elul (Erev Rosh Hashanah). The Torah in Parshat Mishpatim (Shemot 23:17) states that on three holidays – Pesach, Shavuot and Sukkot – the farmers were required to appear in Jerusalem to offer sacrifices. The Sefer HaChinuch (Mitzvah 360) records that because the farmers were concerned with completing their harvests of wheat and barley, they would rush back to their farms after offering their sacrifices on the first day of each Yom Tov. He suggests that the three days for designating Maaser Beheimah were selected because they are each fifteen days before a Regel (Pesach, Shavuot and Sukkot, respectively). Since they were obligated to eat the Maaser in Yerushalayim, the farmers had to spend more time there before the Regel. In Yerushalahim, the farmers were surrounded by Kohanim, Leviim, and members of the Sanhedrin, all of whom had the responsibility of teaching Torah to Bnei Yisrael. The requirement that Maaser be eaten in Yerushalayim caused the people to interact with these scholars and engage in Torah study as a result of their extended stays in Yerushalayim, despite their rush to return to their farms after Yom Tov.
Hashem instituted Maaser Beheimah, as well as the similar Maaser Sheni which requires the farmers to eat in Yerushalayim four out of seven years of each Shemitah cycle, to encourage the people to learn from their scholars and leaders. Just as He created opportunities for His people to learn, He wants us to create our own opportunities for Talmud torah. Finding time for learning Torah is crucial and is something we must all strive to achieve.