A spiritual vacation in the Temple

In the future, thousands of hotels will be built near the Temple so that everyone can rejoice and receive relevant, spiritual guidance. Throughout the year, Jerusalem will serve as a spiritual center for all mankind

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Rabbi Eliezer Melamed,

מצווה. הרב מלמד
מצווה. הרב מלמד
פלאש 90

While the Temple stood, the mitzva of ‘ma’aser sheni’ and ‘neta revai’ prompted everyone to make the Festival Pilgrimage to the Holy Temple  

The Mitzvah of the Temple in Parashat Re’eh

In this week’s Torah portion ‘Re’eh‘, we repeatedly learn about the central role of the Beit HaMikdash (Holy Temple), by means of which the ‘kodesh ha’clali’ (universal holiness) is revealed in the world – a holiness that harmoniously unites all ideals, and gives value and meaning to all details of life.

For too long we have forgotten to talk about the Temple. True, we were busy building the Land, which is the foundation for the establishment of the Temple, but it seems that neglecting the Temple had an adverse effect on the building of the Land as well. Therefore, it is incumbent upon us to study matters regarding the Temple, and attempt to portray the revelation of its holiness in the world, in a vivid and visionary manner.

In a complete system of mitzvoth including ‘aliyah l’regel’ (Festival Pilgrimage), ma’aser sheni, neta revai (agricultural tithes), korban chagigah and nidavot shleimim (animal sacrifices), the Torah guides us how to partake in a spiritual vacation of Torah and prayer, joy and festive meals, all in the environs of the Temple.

I will elaborate a bit on the mitzva of ma’aser sheni explained in our Torah portion.

What is Ma’aser Sheni?

In four of the seven years of the shmitta (Sabbatical years), it is a mitzvah to set aside approximately nine percent of the fruit for ma’aser sheni (the second tithe). The unique aspect of ma’aser sheni is that although it contains kedusha (holiness), it remains in the possession of the owner of the fruit, and it is a mitzvah for him to eat it, with his family, within the walls of Jerusalem, in purity.

As the Torah says: “Take a second tithe of all the seed crops that come forth in the field each year. You must eat this before God your Lord in the place that He will choose as dedicated to His name. There you shall eat the second tithe of your grain, wine and oil…you will then learn [by coming in contact with priests and scholars in Jerusalem] to remain in awe of God your Lord for all time” (Deuteronomy 14:22-23).

Those who find it difficult to bring the fruits of the second tithe to Jerusalem because of the distance and the abundance of fruits, are entitled to redeem the produce on a coin of equal value, thus making the fruit ‘chullin’ (de-sanctified), and the sanctity is transferred to the money. The money would be brought to Jerusalem where people would buy food, which they would eat in purity according to the laws of eating ma’aser sheni.

As the Torah says: “If the journey is too great for you, and God your Lord has blessed you so that the place that God your Lord has chosen as a site dedicated to His name is too far for you to carry it there, you may redeem the tithe for silver. The silver in your hand must consist of coinage which you can bring to the place that God your Lord will choose. You may then spend the money on anything you desire, whether it be cattle, smaller animals, wine, brandy, or anything else for which you  have an urge” (Deuteronomy 14:24-26).

At the time of redeeming the fruit, a fifth of its value must be added; poor people would perform the act of redeeming with the help of a friend, thereby absolving themselves of this additional charge.

A Fund for Spiritual ‘Continuing Education’

By way of the fruits of ma’aser sheni, all of Israel became stronger in the mitzvah of aliyah l’regel (the Festival Pilgrimage) – on Chag Ha’Matzot (Passover), Shavuot (Feast of Weeks), and Succoth (Feast of Tabernacles) for the mitzvah required eating approximately six percent of the total harvest of the fields in Jerusalem, and the most appropriate time for this was during the festive meals.

The mitzva was to share meals with the Levites and the poor, and the more blessed a person was, the longer his family would be able to linger in the shadow of the Divine Presence in Jerusalem, and the more Levites and poor people he would be able to treat at his meal.

And if he had children who could engage in Torah study, in consequence of the tithes, he would encourage them to stay in Jerusalem to study Torah there, and eat from the money of ma’aser sheni.

This is what the Torah says: “You will then learn to remain in awe of God your Lord for all time” (Deuteronomy 14:23) – “This comes to teach that the tithes brings one to the study of Torah” (Sifre, Re’eh 106).

The Harvest was Adequate for the Entire Festival and More

I calculated the percentage of fruit that was allocated for ma’aser sheni from all of the fruit that the average person would eat for seven years, and compared it to the total number of days of the Pilgrimage Festivals. Something wonderful became apparent: the portion of the ma’aser sheni from the total crop corresponded to the number of days of the Pilgrimage Festivals from the seven years of shmitta.

The second tithe was approximately nine percent of the harvest, but it was only set aside in the first, second, fourth and fifth years of the six years that terumot and ma’asrot were allotted – altogether, it was approximately six percent. In the seventh year, the fruit was hefker(abandoned), and terumot and ma’aser was not taken. Thus, when the fruits of the second tithe were divided for eating over seven years, they rose to 5.14 percent of the harvest of the six years of work in the seven year cycle.

If we calculate the days of the three Festivals in which it is a mitzvah to make the pilgrimage, and half a day before and a half a day after, it comes to 19 days, which is 5.2 percent of the average 365 days a year (in truth, the calculation is more complex because on Shavuot of a shmitta year, and Succot at the end of shmitta, there no longer remained fruits of ma’aser sheni, however, on the other hand, the void could be filled to a certain extent through the sacrifices of ma’aser behema [the animal sacrifices] on these festivals).

The Pilgrims' Festive Meals

Thus, the fruits of the second tithe were sufficient for the oleh regelto maintain the level they were accustomed to while at home. Since in addition to this, the law concerning fruits that grew on trees in the fourth year – neta revai – is similar to that of the fruits of ma’aser sheni, consequently, each family had fruits that could be eaten during the fine meals of the holidays.

In addition, each male was commanded to bring a korban chagiga sacrifice, from whose flesh would be eaten at the festive meals, in addition ma’aser behamah, i.e., the tithe that he set aside from his beasts, which were also intended for the mitzva meals eaten in the environs of the Temple. Not only that, but there were people who were exempt from going on the pilgrimage, and consequently, the money of the second tithe and neta revai which were intended to satisfy their sustenance, remained as surpluses that could be eaten at the mitzvah meals in Jerusalem.

Thus, an average person who went to Jerusalem on all three Festivals would eat there far better meals than he ate during the year, and still have enough to share his feast meals with the Levi’im and the poor. Often, these funds from ma’aser would enable those family members who wanted, to remain in Jerusalem for a few months, or a whole year, to dwell in the shadow of the Divine Presence, and to grow in Torah and holiness.

Biur Ma’aserot

Since the pilgrimage to the Holy Temple was fraught with difficulties, and many people had reasons to avoid it, people could have thought of keeping the redeemed money from ma’aser sheni and neta revai indefinitely. Therefore, the mitzvah of biur ma’aserot (the elimination of the tithes) is very important. The ma’aserot cycle consists of two series of three years, and the mitzva of biur ma’aserot determines that until Pesach of the fourth year, and Pesach of the seventh year, the setting aside of terumot and ma’aserot must be completed, including the money redeemed from ma’aser sheni and neta re’vai.

This mitzvah required every Jew to plan his pilgrimages, for if he saw that the time of biur ma’aserot was approaching, he would hasten to observe the mitzvah of pilgrimage, and make an effort to arrange large meals and invite several people, in order to use the intended money. If, nevertheless, he still had surpluses, he would seek out relatives, and pay for their stay in Jerusalem, or at least give the money to Torah scholars to assist them during their stay in the learning halls in Jerusalem. If he was negligent, and not able to use these sacred funds before the time of biur, he had to destroy and eliminate them from the world.

Thus, as a result of the mitzvah of biur ma’aserot and neta re’vai, it was determined that one’s spiritual vacation had to be fulfilled within a maximum of three years (the mitzva of the offering of the ma’aser behema took place on the nearest Festival, or at the latest, within a year).

The Future Vision: A Spiritual Vacation

In accordance with these mitzvot, we can prepare the fulfillment of the vision in our times. Soon, the Temple will be restored, and numerous hotels will be built in the vicinity of the Temple. Masses of Jews will stay in these hotels during the days of the Festivals, going to see the Temple, watch the service of the Kohanim (priests), and hear the singing of the Levites. They will conduct their important festive meals in the hotel’s air-conditioned dining rooms, amidst singing and dancing. All of this will be accompanied, of course, with profound and meaningful Torah study, in all areas of life. For this purpose batei midrash (learning halls) and suitable classrooms will have to be built.

However, in order to make room for all the masses of pilgrims, whose numbers will reach several millions, it will be necessary to build hundreds and thousands of high-rise hotels around the Temple spread over many kilometers, and automated trains will take guests from the hotels to the Temple Mount. Since the trains will travel automatically, they can be used on Shabbat and holidays, similar to Shabbat elevators (there is no ‘shvut’ in the Temple).

Since in the past, agriculture comprised more than 90 percent of a person’s income, the Torah’s percentage of the agricultural produce needed to be allocated for the purpose of lodging in the vicinity of the Mikdash needs to be equated to the percentage that should be set aside from an individual’s current income (similar to ma’aser kesafim and chomesh that were determined in place of terumot and ma’aserot).

The amount set aside from salaries for a spiritual vacation in Jerusalem should be sufficient for several days, beyond those of the Festivals. With this amount of money, each Jew will finance days of study, vacation, and joy in the environs of the Temple. To this end, a vast array of seminars and study times will be established in all areas of Torah and life, so that every Jew can choose to study subjects close to his heart.

Study Times for the Entire World

Needless to say, during the Jewish Festivals, the hotels will be filled to capacity; during the rest of the year, in addition to holding seminars for Jews, the hotels will open their gates to all the nations of the world, as the prophet said: ” In the days to come the mountain of the Lord’s house will be the highest of the mountains. It will be lifted above the hills; peoples will stream to it. Many nations will go and say, “Come, let’s go up to the Lord’s mountain, to the house of Jacob’s God so that he may teach us his ways and we may walk in God’s paths. Torah will come from Zion; the Lord’s word from Jerusalem” (Isaiah 2:2-3).

Blessed be the men, women, and children who ascend in purity to the Temple Mount, and pray for the revelation of the ‘kodesh ha’clali’ in their hearts.

This article appears in the ‘Besheva’ newspaper, and was translated from Hebrew. Other interesting, informative, and thought-provoking articles by Rabbi Melamed can be found at: http://en.yhb.org.il