Long-Term and Short-Term Permanent Learning
Written by the rabbi
Our parasha mentions, among many other mitzvot, the mitzva of ma’aser sheni, the second tithe which must be eaten only within the walls of Yerushalayim. The Torah explains: "You shall eat it before Hashem, your Lord, in the place that He will chose to have His Presence dwell there… so that you shall learn to fear Hashem, your Lord, all the days" (Devarim 14:24). Commentators note that the Jew’s presence in the nation’s spiritual, judicial, and Torah center is a great inspiration. Despite the Torah’s explanation, we need to clear up some issues.
Indeed ma’aser sheni gives incentive to come to Yerushalayim, but why do we need incentive after the Torah commands us to go there for three festivals every year (see Shemot 23:14)? One can claim that the existence of ma’aser sheni encourages those who are exempt from the mitzva to join the rest or to give an incentive that aids compliance. However there appears to be more to it than that. The Torah adds that one will learn to fear Hashem all the days. What is that hinting at?
One possibility is that a person who has a lot of produce will come early and/or stay after the regalim in order to finish everything. However, even that extension would cover more days but not "all the days." The Sefer Hachinuch (#360, regarding the related mitzva of ma’aser beheimah eaten in Yerushalayim) explains that there can be so much to eat that a person will be encouraged to set up a second residence to take full advantage of the situation. Furthermore, a family or a town is likely to send one of its own to Yerushalayim to learn from the kohanim and levi’im and be supported from the extra produce. After becoming an expert in Torah and fear of Hashem, that student turned scholar would spend a lifetime strengthening the religious level of his relatives and neighbors.
Rav Saadya Gaon may hint at another approach. The Torah reference to learning to fear Hashem all the days could mean that the intensive religious experience keeps one inspired for the long term. Yet, R. Saadya explains that one "will learn to serve Hashem all the days." What does the service have to do with the fear of Hashem or "all the days"? Although one who comes to Yerushalayim and sees the religious elements of the city is awed, that may not teach him lessons that are applicable to his day-to-day existence far away from the Holy City. However, eating his produce within the context of holiness teaches a lesson that the mundane can serve holiness. This service of Hashem can be applied all the days in all places.
Indeed, long-term exposure to Torah and holiness can enable one to influence his surroundings on a permanent basis. Yet, even short-term learning with the right approach can provide a permanent message of how to view all of one’s activities.
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