There is a mitzvah of giving a tenth of one’s produce as maaser, tithes to
the Levite (Numbers 18:21-32).
On route to Lavan’s house, Yaakov fell asleep on the Temple Mount. He
dreamed of a ladder and experienced a prophecy where G-d promised to guard
him. When he awoke from his sleep, he vowed that if G-d would provide for
him, then he would apportion a tenth of his possessions as maaser in the
service of G-d (Bereishis 28:22).
Yaakov was following in the footsteps of Avraham who tithed all the
property of Sedom recaptured from the Four kings which he gave to Malki-
Tzedek (Bereishis 14:20).
Maaser typically refers to the first tithing of the farmer’s produce that
was given to the Levi – consisting of a tenth part. Another application of
these laws was maaser beheimah, “animal tithes” where the tenth animal was
consecrated. The animals were gathered into a pen, with a narrow passage
which only allowed one animal to leave at a time. The owner then marked
every tenth animal that exited as consecrated as maaser and brought up to
the Temple in Jerusalem. Additionally, there is also the time-honored
activity of maaser kesafim, the tithing of one’s money to charity.
That one-tenth of all produce was designated to the Levites was in
recognition of their loyal dedication insofar as they fully devoting their
lives in the sacred service of G-d. This tribe did not pursue any activity
other than divine worship singing and operating in the Temple. To this
end, they were not the beneficiaries for a separate tribal portion in the
Holy Land. Instead, maaser was considered to be their heritage (See
The specific designation of a “tenth” is not lost.
Ten is the number best synonymous with holiness. Take, to give two
examples, that ten male members are necessary to make-up a quorum, in
whose presence the Kedusha prayer and the saying of Kaddish can be
recited. The dimensions of the inner sanctum, within which were housed the
Holy Ark with the chamber appropriately 10 cubits by 10 cubits.
So too, the apportionment of a tenth to this tribe alludes to how within
every one of our endeavors there has to an associated level of sanctity.
That goes to the heart of Yaakov’s approach to life. He corresponds to the
third blessing of the Shemoneh Esrei which deals with holiness. His name
can be read “Yud”, the tenth letter of the Hebrew alphabet, “ekev”, the
heel, which is the lowest part of the body. That means to say, Yaakov was
the one to draw holiness down to the lowest levels in this world.
And the giving of maaser testifies to the Jew never losing sight how every
one of our possessions in a gift from G-d.
We are mere custodians of our assets to spiritualize them. And we need to
pay our dues.