S.A.L.T. - Thursday
The final verses of Parashat Bechukotai (27:32-33) speak of the obligation of ma’aser beheima – the designation of one-tenth of one’s cattle as sacrifices. As Rashi explains, the animals designated as ma’aser beheima must be brought to the Beit Ha-mikdash and slaughtered as sacrifices. The blood is sprinkled on the altar, the fats are placed on the fire of the altar, and the meat is eaten by the animals’ owner. Rashi notes that unlike other sacrifices, no portions of the meat are given to the kohanim for consumption; the meat in its entirety is eaten by the kohanim.
Netziv, in his Ha’ameik Davar commentary, notes that in Sefer Divrei Hayamim II (31:6), it appears that ma’aser beheima animals were, in fact, given to the kohanim. We read there of King Chizkiyahu’s restoration of the service in the Beit Ha-mikdash upon his ascension to the throne, succeeding his father, Achaz, who had discontinued the service and embraced idolatry. As part of Chizkiyahu’s program, he ordered the people to support the kohanim who ministered in the Beit Ha-mikdash and taught Torah. The text then speaks of the people bringing portions of their agricultural produce to the kohanim, as required, and also the tithe of their cattle – clearly indicating that the meat of their ma’aser beheima was given to the kohanim.
Netziv boldly explains that although there is no requirement to share the meat of ma’aser beheima with the kohanim, nevertheless, it is appropriate to do so, in order to support the kohanim, who devoted their time to learning and teaching. Ma’aser beheima differs in this respect from shelamim sacrifices, the meat of which is shared by the kohanim and the person offering the sacrifice. Netziv writes that one who brings a shelamim is required to eat his portion of the meat, and specifically should not give the kohanim more than the portion to which they are entitled (the chazeh and shok). When it comes to ma’aser beheima, by contrast, as implied by the verses in Sefer Divrei Hayamim, the person bringing his tithe is encouraged to share it with the kohanim, even though this is not strictly required. (We might note that before refrigeration, it would in any event be impossible for a rancher to consume all the meat of one-tenth of his animals, and thus by necessity, he would need to share the meat.)
Netziv adds that this explains the connection implied by the text here in Parashat Bechukotai between ma’aser beheima and the ma’aser sheni tithe, which the Torah discusses in the immediately preceding verses (27:30-31). The obligation of ma’aser sheni requires taking one-tenth of one’s agricultural produce to Jerusalem and eating it there (or taking its monetary equivalent to Jerusalem and using it to purchase food). In his commentary to Parashat Re’ei (Devarim 14:23), Netziv writes that it would be all but impossible to consume all of one’s ma’aser sheni during a short pilgrimage to Jerusalem. Thus, the farmer, necessarily, would either remain for an extended period, using the time to study Torah, or leave his leftovers with the kohanim in the city, thereby supporting them. Likewise, Netziv writes, ma’aser beheima is intended to help support the kohanim so they could devote their time to Torah learning. Although the Torah does not require sharing the meat of ma’aser beheima with the kohanim, this is the Torah’s intention, as in the case of ma’aser sheni.
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