Tithes and Shmitta

Deuteronomy 14:22-15:23

Since the people will be entering the Land of Israel imminently, Moses details several laws related to farming that the people will need to observe. He begins with the laws of tithes.


Moses tells the people that they must separate a tenth of their produce each year to eat in the place which God has set aside for Himself, the place we know as Jerusalem. Whether it be a tenth of their crops, wine, oil or firstborn of their flocks, the people must bring them to Jerusalem. If they live too far away to carry their tithes with them, they may sell them and use the money to buy food when they get to Jerusalem. The tithes or their replacements must be eaten and enjoyed in Jerusalem, along with the Levites who otherwise do not have an inheritance. Every third year, the tithe is to be set at the gates for the sake of the Levites and the less fortunate, who can then partake. Those who observe these laws will be blessed generously by God.


Every seven years, the people are to make a release. This time, known as shmitta, shall be marked by the cancelling of debts against fellow Jews. Despite the seeming risk of cancelling debts, Moses assures the people that if they follow the laws, God will bless the land so that nobody lacks. He also warns the people against avoiding lending money as the shmitta year approaches, for if they are generous, God will be generous with them.


Another aspect of the release in shmitta is the freeing of slaves. However, if a slave tells his master he likes his life and wants to stay in his service, the master must drive an awl through his ear to the doorpost as a sign.


Moses then details the laws of the firstborn of the flock which he glossed over earlier. These animals may not be worked, but should be sacrificed and eaten in Jerusalem. If it turns out to have a blemish, it cannot be sacrificed, but may be eaten at home by anyone, on condition its blood is not consumed.


Moses promises God’s blessings to those who follow His commands. The Israel Bible points out the linguistic connection between the Hebrew words for blessing, b’racha, and pool of water, b’reicha. Water, which refreshes, nourishes and purifies, also symbolizes renewal. In fact, the final stage of ritual purification is immersion in water. Similarly, when we bless something, we elevate its spiritual status. The land of Israel is repeatedly referred to as a blessing, teaching that is a source of both spiritual and material blessing for the world.


Virtual Classroom Discussion

What do you think is the connection between the laws of tithes and the laws of shmitta that Moses juxtaposes here?

Comments ( 5 )

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  • Melanie Grace

    Shalom! I have a question about the Tithes! Since there is no Beit Ha Mikhdash and the Kohen where do the tithes of the people go now? Thanks

  • Tithes are obligatory and to give from your heart. Tithes are something of yourself and set aside for G-d (the kohen family) 10% for the priests and 10 % for yourself to celebrate G-ds blessings in Jerusjalajim with our people. Tithes , when given, are no longer your own. They are given away. The shmitta (freeing of slaves and canceling of debts) lasts only for 7 years. You are to give yourself for a limited time to someone else. Of course the shmitta (at the end of the 7 years giving away yourself or your land) is also a feast.

  • May be because every time we give tithe, we are freeing ourselves from the curses that would otherwise plague us when we fail to. In the same way when we release others, we are freeing them from the poverty and hopelessness/helplessness that would otherwise plague them if they still had to pay our debts or remain our slave.

  • Diana Brown

    Bless the rabbi or priest who blesses you on your walk with the Lord your God because he is put there to remind you of your place before the Lord. Then the rabbi or priest gets out of the way so you can go before the Lord.
    Your fellow is in need, as you may be from time to time, and shmitta reminds us that debts should have an end, otherwise, we are back in slavery. One day, there will be no poor in Eretz Israel (Messianic Age). Until then, we must have regard and relief for the poor in our midst.

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