Parsha Vayetzei: Bereshith/Genesis 28:10 - 32:2
Warning: This blog post will discuss a controversial topic - Tithing.
Tithing is a certified "no-no" off-limits topic. Whenever we bring it up, people cringe, avert their eyes, change the subject, or start up a debate.
Why is tithing so controversial?
Actually, it’s not really tithing itself that’s controversial. It’s money. Even more so, it’s the idea of giving away money. My money.
Wealth has an extremely hard pull on the mind and heart of man. The "accumulation of wealth" is a strong drive that is not easily overcome.
It’s what drives children to fill their hands with as many toys or cookies as they can hold and what drives adults to always seek another dollar and the next big thing.
Now, surely, most of us consciously know better. We know the pursuit of wealth and possessions is nothing more than vanity.
And yet, we still seek it, in subtle and in sometimes subconscious ways.
One of these ways is by not giving. We don’t give because giving leaves us with less wealth.
We know this is wrong, so we rationalize and justify it. We make excuses for not giving or for not giving the amount we know we should.
Such is the case with tithing. We’ve heard so many excuses - I mean, “reasons” - for not giving, it’s not even funny.
Yet, this week in Parsha Vayetzei, we come to another example of tithing that pretty much shuts down all the reasons people give for not tithing.
Our Forefathers' Example
On Ya’aqob’s journey to Haran, he stops for the night and has a dream of a ladder reaching to the heavens with messengers going up and coming down. When he awoke in the morning, he set up a standing column and made a vow to YAHUAH:
Ber/Gen. 28:20-22 And Yaʽaqob made a vow, saying, “Seeing Elohim is with me, and has kept me in this way that I am going, and has given me bread to eat and a garment to put on – when I have returned to my father’s house in peace, and יהוה has been my Elohim, then this stone which I have set as a standing column shall be Elohim’s house, and of all that You give me, I shall certainly give a tenth to You.”
This vow formally instituted the practice of tithing, and it became law at Sinai. However, this is not the first instance of tithing in the Torah.
The first was Abraham. After he defeated the four kings, he met MalkiTsedeq and gave him a tenth of all.
Ber/Gen. 14:18-20 And Malkitsedeq sovereign of Shalĕm brought out bread and wine. Now he was the priest of the Most High Ěl. (19) And he blessed him and said, “Blessed be Abram of the Most High Ěl, Possessor of the heavens and earth. (20) “And blessed be the Most High Ěl who has delivered your enemies into your hand.” And he gave him a tenth of all.
There’s also a hint of Yitshaq tithing. His father Abraham tithed, and his son Ya'aqob tithed. Surely, Yitshaq was the middle link in the chain of knowledge. Also, Bereshith 26:12 states that Yitshaq sowed in the land and reaped a hundredfold. It’s believed that his prosperous increase was a result of giving away a tenth.
Common Objections to Tithing
These examples of the forefathers put to rest many of the objections people have against tithing.
The most often heard objection to tithing is that the Set-Apart Place is no longer standing. It wasn’t yet built when the forefathers tithed, but that didn’t stop them from giving a tenth.
People also object because the Levitical priesthood is no longer established. It was not yet established at the time of the forefathers either, and yet, that didn’t stop them from giving a tenth.
Others object saying that the tithe is only of agricultural products. Abraham met MalkiTsedeq as he returned from battle with “all the goods” (Ber. 14:16). What do you suppose he tithed? All the “goods” he brought back with him.
If it was just livestock or grain, then surely the Torah would have used those words specifically. However, “goods” implies material possessions, which include objects of wealth. So, gold, silver, and the like (i.e. money) were most assuredly included in the tithe.
Still, others object to tithing saying it’s only supposed to go to the poor. Abraham gave his tithe to the priest of the Most High El, not to the poor. Also, Ya'aqob vowed to give it to YAHUAH, not to the poor. Surely, both Abraham and Ya'aqob still gave to the poor, but their tithe specifically went to YAHUAH.
Who Receives the Tithe?
This is where a great many people falter. Many view tithing as giving to people rather than to YAHUAH.
As Ya’aqob made clear in his vow, tithing is giving to YAHUAH: “I shall certainly give a tenth to You” (Ber. 28:22).
Later in the Torah, YAHUAH explains that it is His tithe, and HE gives it to His servants, the priests:
Bem/Num. 18:21 “And see, I have given the children of Lĕwi all the tithes in Yisra’ĕl as an inheritance in return for the service which they are serving, the service of the Tent of Meeting."
Bem/Num. 18:24 "but the tithes of the children of Yisra’ĕl, which they present as a contribution to יהוה, I have given to the Lĕwites as an inheritance. That is why I have said to them, ‘Among the children of Yisra’ĕl they have no inheritance.’ ”
Tithing is the method YAHUAH established to support His servants. We give to Him, and He gives to His servants.
Yet, we find it so hard to see it this way. We see a person taking our wealth, rather than seeing ourselves giving to YAHUAH.
The drive for the accumulation of wealth leads us to see it completely the wrong way.
What’s so wrong about giving to a person anyway? Giving shows kindness and love for others. Giving shows compassion. Would YAHUAH really object to us giving to someone? If we decide to give a portion of our income to someone, will YAHUAH really stand in the way and say, “You shall not give! I forbid it!” I find that a little hard to fathom.
All things belong to YAHUAH. He gives us a portion of His wealth and expects us to be good stewards of it.
Whatever He gives us, He allows us to use up to 90% of it. The remaining 10% is His. It’s not ours. Never was, never will be. That's why the prophet Mal'aki calls it robbery when we don't tithe (Mal. 3:8).
We show good faith when we give YAHUAH what is His. We show Him that we are trustworthy stewards of His wealth.
Overcoming the Drive
The forefathers tithed, and they were blessed abundantly. They had no qualms about giving away a portion of their wealth because YAHUAH meant more to them than their wealth. Their sole desire was to do YAH’s will. Wealth was simply a means to do so.
Ya’aqob showed us this when he asked Elohim to give him “bread to eat and a garment to put on” (Ber. 28:20). All he needed was enough food to live on and clothes simply to wear. He wasn’t seeking lavishness nor did he desire the esteem of wealth.
Ya’aqob had no longing for the prestige or status of having the latest and greatest, the biggest and the best, or the newest and the trendiest. He asked only for what was required to sustain him.
Because the pull of the accumulation of wealth had no effect on Ya’aqob, YAHUAH blessed him greatly. He went down to Haran with nothing, and by the end of twenty years, he had “increased very much and had many flocks, and female and male servants, and camels and donkeys” (Ber. 30:43).
Ya’aqob overcame his desire for the accumulation of wealth. Therefore, YAHUAH could trust him with abundance. He blessed Ya’aqob because Ya’aqob promised to tithe, and YAHUAH knew He could trust him to keep his word. He knew Ya'aqob's heart was clean of every ounce of the lust for wealth.
This is where we need to be - in the same mindset and spiritual character of Ya’aqob, where money and wealth have no pull over us.
If we can honestly say that food is just to eat and clothes just to wear and that we seek no status or prestige from our material gain, then we’re at the level of our forefathers concerning material blessings.
If we have trouble tithing, then that’s one indication that we’re not there yet.
Strangely, tithing is not only the result of overcoming the drive for the accumulation of wealth, but it is also the means. The more we give of our wealth, the less our wealth will have a hold on us.
Regular tithing will give strength to our being to be able to overcome the evil inclination and the drive for the accumulation of wealth.
And let’s not be confused by the term “wealth.” We are not exempt if we are not considered wealthy. Even a poor person is driven by the accumulation of wealth. For what little he has acquired, he seeks to retain, and the opportunity to acquire more is a constant driving force in his life.
It’s been made clear and obvious in the Torah that YAHUAH wants us to give. He wants us to return His portion to Him in trustworthiness.
When we show Him that we can be trusted to do so, and we exemplify in our life (and lifestyle) that the accumulation of wealth has no draw on us, then we can expect to prosper.
Following our forefathers’ example in both spiritual and material matters will bring us to true prosperity and enable us to do YAHUAH’s work in the earth.
May we all be blessed and strengthened in our capacity to give and increase more and more in our understanding of YAHUAH’s Torah.