The 5 Towns Jewish Times

Ki Tavo: ‘Social’ Mitzvot Versus ‘Real’ Mitzvot

Rabbi Moshe Bloom

By Rabbi Moshe Bloom
Torah VeHa’aretz Institute

“When you have set aside in full the tenth part of your yield … and have given it to the Levite, the stranger, the orphan, and the widow … you shall declare before Hashem your G-d: ‘I have cleared out the consecrated portion from the house; and I have also given it to the Levite, the stranger, the orphan, and the widow, just as You commanded me; I have neither transgressed nor neglected any of Your commandments.’” (Devarim 26:12–13)

There is a subconscious attitude prevalent among religious Jews that the mitzvot between man and G-d (bein adam laMakom) are the “real mitzvot,” while the mitzvot between man and fellow man (bein adam la’chaveiro), are “social” mitzvot that we should observe in a general sense, but don’t need to be meticulous about the details. It seems that the root of this misconception lies in the inherent difference between these two types of mitzvot. With the mitzvot of bein adam la’chaveiro, the benefit derived from the mitzvah is felt immediately — that is, its contribution to making the world a better place. People who consider their immediate personal benefit, and the reward they will receive for it in the World to Come, generally assume that since they derive benefit from the mitzvah here in this world, it comes at the expense of their reward in the World to Come. Some might even think that there is no eternal reward for these mitzvot whatsoever.

It is precisely this misconception that Christianity spoke out against. Christianity, professing that man’s ultimate mission is to rectify the world, did away with most of the bein adam laMakom mitzvot. In this way, it ignored the tremendous value of the bein adam laMakom mitzvot, not only in terms of personal benefit, but also their value in rectifying the world at large.

The truth is, though, that mitzvot bein adam la’chaveiro are by all means “real” mitzvot. They often involve many intricate halachot, similar to those governing Shabbat and kashrut, and their eternal reward does not necessarily fall short of the mitzvot bein adam la’makom. On the other hand, someone who fully observes the mitzvot bein adam laMakom contributes tremendously to tikkun olam as well, even if the impact is not seen or felt tangibly or immediately, as is the case with the mitzvot bein adam la’chaveiro. In this way, the bein adam la’chaveiro mitzvot can serve as tangible examples of the true impact of the bein adam laMakom mitzvot, so we can understand that they also make the world a better place. Furthermore, the rectification we accomplish when performing bein adam la’chaveiro mitzvot goes far beyond what meets the eye, much more than the assistance we provide a poor person from the charity we give.

Bi’ur Ma’aserot: The Bein Adam La’Chaveiro Component

The mitzvot of terumot and ma’aserot include components of both bein adam laMakom and bein adam la’chaveiro. Failing to separate some of the gifts forbids all of the produce for consumption (terumah and ma’aser sheini); eating certain gifts is considered not only stealing from kohanim, but carries the death penalty if eaten intentionally, or a fine (chomesh, one-fifth) if eaten unintentionally (terumot and bikkurim). At the same time, terumot and ma’aserot are meant to be a source of income for those in need: kohanim, Levi’im, and the poor — obviously the bein adam la’cheveiro aspect of these mitzvot.

The act of separating the gifts from one’s produce fulfills the core bein adam laMakom obligation. The produce then is still considered the owner’s property and the owner can technically eat it. However, the bein adam la’chaveiro component of the mitzvah cannot be fulfilled when the gifts have not been delivered to their proper destinations. The mitzvah of bi’ur ma’aserot, removing the ma’aserot from one’s domain, ensures that we also perform the next stage. Perhaps for this reason, after all of the gifts are removed from one’s domain and reach their proper destinations, the text of the vidui ma’aserot reads that these gifts have been delivered to the “Levite, convert, orphan, and widow.”

The gift given to the Levite is ma’aser rishon, while the gifts given to the poor (the orphan, widow, and convert) are ma’aser ani, as well as all of the matanot aniyim at earlier stages of the harvest (lekket, shichecha, pe’ah, peret, and ollelot). The common denominator for ma’aser rishon and ma’aser ani, along with the other matanot aniyim, is that they are all bein adam la’chaveiro; there are no sanctions against those who fail to deliver the gifts to the correct people (besides the prohibition against theft). The produce is not forbidden for consumption; if eaten there is no death penalty or fine.

The gifts carrying severe sanctions vis-à-vis bein adam laMakom — those involving capital punishment or fines (terumot and bikkurim), as well as those that cause produce to be forbidden (terumot and ma’aser sheini) — are just hinted at in the Torah. Chazal (in the last chapter of tractate ma’aser sheini) view the phrase “gam netativ” as a reference to terumot and the words “bi’arti ha’kodesh” as a reference to ma’aser sheini and neta revai. Even so, it is impossible to observe the mitzvah of bi’ur ma’aserot and recite vidui ma’aserot unless one performs both the bein adam laMakom and bein adam la’chaveiro aspects of the mitzvah. Thus, we request at the end of the vidui: “Look down from Your holy abode, from heaven, and bless Your people Israel and the soil You have given us … as You swore to our fathers” (Devarim 26:15). This prayer will be answered only when both components of the mitzvah are fulfilled in their entirety. 

HaRav 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. Recently, the Institute opened an English department to cater to the English-speaking public living in Israel and abroad. For additional information and inquiries, email or call 972-8-684-7325.