Friday, September 5, 2008

Tithing Oneself

The Beis Yisroel of Gur, zt”l, was in Kfar Ata on the 12th of Elul in 5716 (1956 according to the secular calendar) visiting with a community of his devoted followers there. Everyone sat together at a festive meal and the chassidim served many different varieties of fresh fruit in honor of the occasion. Since the produce of Eretz Yisroel must be carefully tithed before it can be consumed, a member of the group decided to eliminate all doubt in the minds of the rest of the group by declaring, “It has already been ma’asered and is fit to eat.”
The Gerrer Rebbe, famous for his incisive mind, shot back cryptically, “Every person must also ma’aser himself!”
Since the fruit was properly tithed and certainly didn’t need further tithing, no one understood what the Rebbe meant.
He explained, “We find in the opening mishnah of maseches Rosh Hashanah that the first of Elul is considered the new year regarding the tithing of one’s livestock. As we see on the daf, Rav Eliezer and Rav Shimon differ and hold to the opinion that the proper date is the first of Tishrei instead. The Noam Elimelech, zt”l, states that tithing represents fear of heaven. Seen from this perspective, the Tanna Kama is really saying that a person who wakes up to repent as late as Rosh Chodesh Elul is no better than a beast!”
The Rebbe went on, “Rav Elazar and Rav Shimon, on the other hand, maintain that one who starts repenting on Rosh Chodesh Elul is still within the category of a human being, however if he waits for Rosh Hashanah itself, he too is no better than a dumb animal! Rabbosai, we are in the middle of Elul and Rosh Hashanah is just around the corner. We must ma’aser ourselves and do teshuvah right away!”


yitz said...

Great story, I happen to be learning Mishnayos Rosh Hashana right now, so thanks!
PS - 5716=1956. Check it out!

Micha said...

Yitz: Glad you liked the piece.
Thank you very much for the correction which I just posted; it is very appreciated.

Freshly said...

i don't understand.

Micha Golshevsky said...

I am sorry if this post was overly complex. In retrospect I see that any thinking person really needs to know the Mishna well in order to understand. At the very least I should have explained much better.
A little background: The Beis Yisrael could be rather sharp in the tradition of Gerrer Chasidus which is based on Kotzk and believes in a fearless search for emes no matter what.
The Beis Yisrael was trying to shake these chasidim out of spiritual complacency and move them to strive to do teshuvah. Although he was known to be very encouraging to the downtrodden etc, he wasn't in favor of chasidim who live a self satisfied mindless existence.Sometimes he gave people a little push to help them wake up and start striving for Hashem...
Now for the explanation: The Beis Yisrael pointed out that just as one must tithe food one must "tithe" himself through teshuvah especially in the holy month of Elul.(That tithing alludes to teshuvah is explained in many sources. Since before tithing one may not eat the food. Tithing elevates and permits the entire what is tithed. similarly, one elevates his entire life making it spiritually palatable through teshuvah.)
The halacha is that one must tithe animals born in the same year together. Animals born in different years may not be tithed together. There is a dispute regarding what exact day is the first of the new year for tithing animals. Author of the Mishna says Rosh Chodesh Elul while Rebbe Eliezer and Rabi Shimon say the date is Rosh Chodesh Tishrei or Rosh Hashanah.(Animal born before and after Rosh Chodesh may not be tithed with those born before.)
The tithe on animals can hint at someone so connected to bad behavior that he is unwilling to even think about this until his back is against the wall. Sadly this person is allowing his animal-like tendencies to rule him. When he feels that it is the last moment he starts to do or at least think about teshuvah.
In light of this, the author of the mishna's message in avodas Hashem is that one who waits until Elul to start thinking about teshuvah shows himself to be sadly thoughtless. How can one go through the three weeks culminating in Tisha B'av without doing some sort of teshuvah?
Those who dissent essentially agree that this is improper but they do not say that this person has animal-like callousness. This tittle is reserved for one who refrains from teshuvah even during Elul itself.
Hashem should enable us to continuously yearn for joyous balanced teshvuah until we merit to achieve this and turn all sins to merits!