By Rabbi Moshe Bloom
Torah VeHa’aretz Institute
The Torah commands us: “You shall set aside every year a tenth part of all the yield of your sowing that is brought from the field … Every third year you shall take out every tithe of your crops in that year and set it down within your cities. Then the Levite, who has no hereditary portion as you have, and the stranger, the fatherless, and the widow in your settlements shall come and eat their fill, so that the L-rd your G-d may bless you in all the enterprises you undertake” (Devarim 14: 22, 27–28).
From here we learn that we need to remove the ma’aserot from our homes every three years and deliver them to all the people the Torah indicates they are meant for. Our Sages teach us that the time we perform this mitzvah is on Pesach, on the fourth and seventh year of the Shemittah cycle (5779 is the 4th year for Shemittah cycle). This is the mitzvah of bi’ur ma’aserot (lit. “removing the tithes”).
Sefer HaChinuch (Mitzvah 607) provides an explanation for this mitzvah. The ability to speak is what distinguishes man from beast, and there are some who are more careful with their words than they are with their actions. Since terumot and ma’aserot are important but difficult to perform, the Torah commands that we declare that we separated them properly and gave them to the proper recipients.
The Torah wants us to make sure we have a clean slate every three years. At this time, we verify that all the terumot and ma’aserot were indeed separated and appropriated accordingly: to the kohen, Levi, poor person, or eaten in Jerusalem. Tevel, untithed produce, is always forbidden to eat. But once every so often, we need to closely examine our homes and ensure that we don’t have any tevel or dough from which challah was not taken. This somewhat resembles our preparations for Pesach, where we do an annual deep-clean of our homes and make sure that they are free of even a crumb of chametz (or dust …). And on Pesach, we start afresh with an organized, squeaky-clean, chametz-free home.
There are two components of this mitzvah: bi’ur and viduy, somewhat similar to bi’ur chametz, which includes burning and destroying the chametz and then declaring that any other chametz is ownerless or nullified. In bi’ur ma’aserot, we remove the gifts from our domain, which is accomplished by giving the gifts to the appropriate destinations or by destroying them (when they cannot be eaten, like challah and ma’aser sheini). The viduy includes saying verses from Parashat Ki Tavo (Devarim 26:12–15). We essentially say that we performed our duties as mandated and ask G-d to bless us and our land.
Why Is it Called Viduy?
Rabbi Joseph Dov HaLevi Soloveitchik (in The Rav Speaks, part of the Chamesh Derashot, given at the Mizrachi Conferences from 5022–5027 / 1962–1967) asks why our Sages considered reading this parashah as “viduy,” confession. In the Viduy, we confess our sins, “Ashamnu, bagadnu, gazalnu — We have transgressed, we have acted perfidiously, we have robbed.” The confession of viduy ma’aserot is exactly the opposite: we declare our good deeds — that we fulfilled G-d’s will and separated and appropriated our tithes in their entirety. Can this possibly be considered viduy?
Rabbi Soloveitchik explains that teshuvah contains two aspects: the ability to admit guilt for our actions and see ourselves as lowly and degraded, and, conversely, to purify and elevate ourselves and reach the highest of heights. Admission of sin lacks significance if we do not aspire to rectify ourselves or believe that we are capable of sanctifying ourselves. If we are not thoroughly convinced that we can indeed reach the summits of human greatness, we will lack the ability to take responsibility for our negative actions and will have no motivation to change. For this reason, the verse “I have obeyed the L-rd my G-d; I have done just as You commanded me” (Devarim 26: 14) is also part of the confession. Here, man proves that he can fulfill G-d’s will, and by doing so admits that the demands placed upon him are also just. And if he does fail, then he can admit his shortcomings as well. (Rav Soloveitchik then goes on to compare this to the positive aspects of the Mizrachi movement and its accomplishments, and then the points it needed to improve.)
Is This Mitzvah Relevant Today in the U.S.?
In practice, the mitzvah of bi’ur is also relevant today to those who buy imported produce from Israel that are subject to tithing — for these products, one needs to ensure that they are tithed.
Note that most of the fruits and vegetables that are exported from Israel are not tithed in Israel. For this reason, whoever has the merit of buying Israeli produce should take terumot and ma’aserot without a blessing (since there are also opinions that such produce is exempt from tithing). Taking terumot and ma’aserot is relatively simple and doesn’t take more than a minute after you learn what to do (for a comprehensive explanation and the step-by-step procedure of separating terumot and ma’aserot, visit ToraLand.org.il/en).
There are 20 mitzvot that relate to ma’aserot and ma’aserot: six positive injunctions (one of them being bi’ur ma’aserot) and 14 negative injunctions. Jews living in the Diaspora who buy Israeli produce and separate terumot and ma’aserot properly have the opportunity to perform all of these mitzvot! This is besides supporting Israel and Israeli-Zionist agriculture. Furthermore, according to the Chatam Sofer, produce grown in the Land of Israel contains a special sanctity!
Back to bi’ur ma’aserot. One needs to also make sure that there aren’t any products at home from which challah has not been taken and that the challah was burned, buried, or disposed of properly.
Next, we will discuss viduy ma’aserot, be’H.
Rabbi Moshe Bloom is head of the English department of Torah VeHa’aretz Institute. Torah VeHa’aretz Institute (the Institute for Torah and the Land of Israel) engages in research, public education, and the application of contemporary halachic issues that come to the fore in the bond between Torah and the Land of Israel today. For additional information and inquiries, email email@example.com or call 972-8-684-7325.