by Rabbi Simon Basalely
Although the opening story of this week’s Parasha, the bringing of the first fruits (Bikkurim) often gets much of the attention, I would like to dig a little bit past that to the second discussion of our Parasha – Viduy Maaser for an important and timely insight. Viduy Maaser (confession of the tithes) is recited before the last day of Pesach on the fourth and seventh years of the Shmittah cycle in which, after making sure that all necessary tithes were given, the owner recites a short statement in which he proclaims that he has fulfilled his obligation to ensure that all the grain which was intended to be given to the Leviim and the poor was given and all the grain which was meant to be taken up to Yerushalayim to be eaten there was transported and consumed. Before asking for a final blessing – the petitioner proclaims “עשיתי ככל אשר צויתני” – “I have done all that you have commanded.” Rashi there comments: “שמחתי ושימחתי בו”. “I rejoiced and I caused others to rejoice.”
What is this rejoicing which Rashi speaks of? What is the rejoicing in giving the Maaser? So on the simple level, it is referring to the tithes which are eaten by the owner in Yerushalayim. The owner declares that he rejoiced in eating the special tithes which were meant to be eaten in Yerushalayim. But, I recently came across another interpretation of the rejoicing which, I believe, contains in it an important lesson for our lives and for those of our children.
Rav Avraham Pam explains that the two halves of the phrase are actually interconnected. When Rashi (based on the Mishna in Maaser Sheni) comments that “I rejoiced and I caused others to rejoice” what it means is that the reason why I rejoiced is because I caused others to rejoice. The individual who brings the Maaser is proclaiming that not only did he or she help others but he or she found personal meaning and fulfillment in it as well. The farmer is proclaiming that not only did he give but he was happy to be able to help.
This happiness in giving can stem from many things. On the most basic level, the giver is happy because he merits to be on the giving side not on the receiving side. There is not a time when this is more acutely felt than when he is actually giving! But, additionally, there is inherent joy in one’s ability to ease the pain of others. It feels good to make others feel good! Hence, the speaker says that “I rejoiced” but not a rejoicing of self-indulgence, but a rejoicing of helping others. Although the insights of our holy Torah do not need science to justify them, it is fascinating to note that contemporary scientific research strongly supports this idea – that lasting happiness develops through the purpose and meaning found in living lives to help others. (See http://time.com/4070299/secret-to-happiness/).
There is no better time of the year for to focus on what giving means to us and to our children than the days leading up to Rosh Hashana and Yom Kippur. We approach Hashem pleading for a good upcoming year and for forgiveness and atonement for all our mistakes. What better way to make our case than to show Hashem that for us and for our families giving is where we go for our “highs.” We look to altruism and caring for others to find our purpose, meaning, and satisfaction.