The rule of Ma’aseir Sheini (Devarim 14:23, see Rashi) that we sometimes read on the three Regalim (Pesach, Shavu’ot, and Sukkot) seems pointless, as noted by Abarbanel. We understand the need for Terumah (the tithe given to a Kohein) and Ma’aseir (the entitlement of the Levi) to provide food for Kohanim and Leviyim who devote their time to spiritual matters (as explained in Rambam’s Hichot Shemittah VeYoveil 13:12). Similarly, the need for Ma’aseir Ani, the tithe given to the poor in lieu of Ma’aseir Sheini during the third and sixth years of the Shemittah cycle, is self-evident. However, there is no apparent reason for one to bring ten percent of one’s produce to eat in Yerushalayim as Ma’aseir Sheini during years one, two, four, and five of the Shemittah cycle. What is accomplished by simply eating produce in Yerushalayim?
The Torah (ibid.) does present a reason for this rule: “in order to learn to fear Hashem (Yirat Shamayim).” However, it is far from obvious why eating produce in Jerusalem should deepen one’s Yirat Shamayim. Moreover, it is not an easy Mitzvah to observe. While the Torah (Devarim 14:24-26) permits us to convert Ma’aseir Sheini into cash and to reconvert the cash into Ma’aseir Sheini when we reach Yerushalayim, one-tenth of one’s produce is an enormous amount of food to eat in Yerushalayim.
Seemingly, it would have made more sense for the Torah to mandate giving Ma’aseir Ani each year. One might answer, however, that the Torah seeks to limit the entitlements of the poor in order to motivate them to earn their daily bread and not overly rely on Ma’aseir Ani.
Abarbanel – A Chok
Abarbanel offers a very straightforward explanation for Ma’aseir Sheini. Yirat Shamayim is enhanced simply by adhering to Hashem’s Mitzvot. He adds that the fact that this Mitzvah is performed very near the Beit HaMikdash adds to the growth in Yirat Shamayim. Thus, Abarbanel regards Ma’aseir Sheini as a Chok, a Mitzvah with a reason we do not comprehend.
This is similar to Beit HaLevi’s explanation of Rashi’s reason for Parah Adumah (BeMidbar 19:22 citing Rabi Moshe HaDarshan). Rashi states that the Parah Adumah serves as a Kaparah (correction) for Cheit HaEigel (the sin of the Golden Calf). Beit HaLevi asks why Parah Adumah is categorized as a Chok (see Rashi to Bemidbar 19:2) if there is a reason for it according to Rabi Moshe HaDarshan. He answers that the observance of a Chok, serving Hashem even without understanding the reason for a Mitzvah, constitutes a Kaparah for Cheit HaEigel, in which we inappropriately served Hashem following what we deemed to be proper. In our observance of Parah Adumah, we submit our reasoning to the divine will, unlike Cheit HaEigel, in which our reasoning wrongly superseded the divine command. Ma’aseir Sheini similarly enhances our Yirat Shamayim through our observance of this Mitzvah despite its difficulties and despite the fact that we do not grasp the reason why Hashem commanded this practice.
Alshich – Mamon Gavo’ah
Alshich adds that Ma’aseir Sheini reminds us that the food we eat belongs to Hashem. He notes that Rabi Meir (Sukkah 35a and elsewhere) regards Ma’aseir Sheini as Mamon Gavo’ah, property of Hashem. TABC Talmidim Aaron Pecaric and Tzvi Fishkin add that eating Ma’aseir Sheni in Yerushalayim is reminiscent of eating the Mahn in the Midbar, where we were living and eating Mahn in close proximity to the Mishkan. Eating Ma’aseir Sheini in Yerushalayim reminds us that our food is from Hashem, just as the Mahn was quite obviously from Hashem.
One may support the approaches of Abarbanel and Alshich from Semichut Parashiyot, the Torah’s juxtaposition of topics. Prior to its discussion of Ma’aseir Sheini, the Torah discusses the rules of Kashrut. Kashrut may also be a Chok (see Rambam’s Hilchot Me’ilah 8:8) that reminds us that the food we eat belongs to Hashem. Kashrut teaches us this lesson by restricting what we are permitted to eat, and Ma’aseir Sheini teaches us this lesson by limiting where we may eat a portion of our food.
Chizkuni, Ibn Ezra, Rashbam, and Seforno – A Means to Yirat Shamayim
Chizkuni, Ibn Ezra, Rashbam, and Seforno all (with slight variations) adopt an approach that eating Ma’aseir Sheini does not by itself develop Yirat Shamayim. Rather, they view Ma’aseir Sheini as a means to insure that all Jews spend time in Yerushalayim, where they will learn to fear Hashem. The exposure in Yerushalayim to the Beit HaMikdash, the Kohanim, the Leviyim, and the Sanhedrin (the Jewish Supreme Court which was located on the Temple Mount) will enhance Yirat Shamayim. Indeed, Sefer HaChinuch (Mitzvah 360) describes the entire city of Yerushalayim as a Mekom Torah, a center of Torah which inspires Jews from all over. This is reminiscent of those who make sure to spend some time in Yeshiva when they feel that their Yirat Shamayim needs a boost. Yerushalayim may be described as a place where one “recharges his spiritual batteries.”
When working with disadvantaged children in a poor section of Tel Aviv in the summer of 1984, I was astonished to learn how many residents of Tel Aviv had never been to Yerushalayim, despite the fact that it was only an hour’s bus ride away. Certainly, in times when there were no fast means of transportation, there was a great risk that many Jews would never have the merit seeing Yerushalayim in all its motivating glory. Ma’aseir Sheini prevents this from happening.
One difficulty with this interpretation is that we have other means to insure that we spend time in Yerushalayim. Indeed, the Torah requires us to make a pilgrimage to Yerushalayim on each of the Shalosh Regalim (Devarim 16:16). Similarly, the Torah (VaYikra 27:32, see Rashi) requires that a tenth of our animals (Ma’aseir Beheimah) and the produce of the fourth year (Neta Reva’i; VaYikra 19:24, see Rashi) be eaten in Yerushalayim. Thus, it seems that Ma’aseir Sheini is not intended merely to insure that all Jews spend some time in Jerusalem.
Sefer HaChinuch – Full-Time Presence in Jerusalem
Sefer HaChinuch (Mitzvah 360) agrees with Chizkuni, Ibn Ezra, Rashbam, and Seforno that eating Ma’aseir Sheini does not by itself develop Yirat Shamayim but instead is a means to insure that all Jews spend time in Yerushalayim. However, he adds that Ma’aseir Sheini, along with Ma’aseir Beheimah and Neta Reva’i, motivates a family not only to visit Yerushalayim, as we do during the Shalosh Regalim, but also to designate a family member to live full-time in Yerushalayim. The sheer volume of Ma’aseir Sheini, Ma’aseir Beheimah, and Neta Reva’i is impossible to consume in the course of a short visit to Jerusalem. Instead, one family must stay in Yerushalayim to manage the large volume of food.
This family member will not have to worry about earning his daily bread, since he has access to the Ma’aseir Sheini etc. Thus, he is free to pursue the opportunity to grow spiritually while in Jerusalem. This family member will grow spiritually and hopefully positively impact the rest of his family. Indeed, we have seen the positive impact of the year of Torah study in Eretz Yisrael upon many families within our community. A positive culture change has occurred in our community as a result. We see the spirit of the Halachah of Ma’aseir Sheini’s being fulfilled in our time.
Ma’aseir Sheini, as explained by the Sefer HaChinuch, also serves as a precedent, as many have noted, for the phenomenon of Kollel members’ being supported by their families and others who allocate significant portions of their earnings and wealth to enable the former to study Torah full-time. It is important to caution, though, that the Sefer HaChinuch supports such Torah study if it is supported by family members or others willing to support such study in the classical model of the Yissachar-Zevulun partnership (see Rashi to Devarim 33:18). It hardly serves as a model to such study’s being supported by Nochri government subsidies, a matter which the Halachah condemns as a Chillul Hashem (Shulchan Aruch Yoreh Dei’ah 254:1).
Conclusion – Rav Amital: The Inspiration of Yerushalayim
Perhaps the most beautiful explanation of Ma’aseir Sheini is the one I heard from Rav Yehuda Amital zt”l in his first address to the American students of Yeshivat Har Etzion in 1981. In the course of this talk, Rav Amital sought to inspire love of Eretz Yisrael and Yerushalayim. As an example of the spiritual power of Eretz Yisrael, Rav Amital pointed to the Pasuk we have been discussing (Devarim 14:23), which notes that the goal of Ma’aseir Sheini is to deepen one’s Yirat Shamayim. Rav Amital told us that the spiritual power of Jerusalem is so intense that even simply eating fruit in Yerushalayim serves to increase one’s level of Yirat Shamayim.
Today we merely designate (Korei Sheim) a tenth of our produce as Ma’aseir Sheini and then redeem it with a coin of the most minimal value (Perutah). May we merit to experience the full and proper fulfillment of this most spiritually potent Mitzvah, through which we can bask in the glory of the resultant growth in Yirat Shamayim.
Many ask how people who are not farmers and do not bring Ma’aseir Sheini grow in their Yirat Shamayim. A response is that in the pre-modern world, the great majority of the population engaged in agriculture at some level. Thus, almost all would have had the opportunity to grow in Yirat Shamayim in their fulfillment of the Mitzvah of Ma’aseir Sheini. However, in contemporary industrialized societies, only a small percentage of the population engages in agriculture. Thus, in the future, when Ma’aseir Sheini will be reinstated in all its glory, only a small percentage of the population will reap the benefits from fulfilling this all-important Mitzvah. We look forward to receiving instruction from Moshe Rabbeinu and Aharon HaKohein (see Tosafot Pesachim 114b s.v. Echad) as to how to deal with this and other issues and challenges.