This week’s parasha starts with two mitzvot that involve a declaration before the altar. The first, ארמי עובד אבי, is familiar to us from the Pesach seder. I’d like to focus on the second.
This ceremony is done about every three years, after separating the tithes from the third year (and sixth year) of the seven-year shmittah cycle:
That year is different because in most years (years 1,2,4 and 5) there are two tithes: מעשר ראשון, given to the Levi: and מעשר שני, which the owner eats in Jerusalem. The third and sixth years don’t have the second tithe; they have a different second tithe, given to the poor:
The agricultural fiscal year for tithes starts on טו בשבט of the following year, so the ceremony is done on the following רגל, the Pesach of years 4 and 7:
It’s an odd mitzvah. Not only do we have to the mtizvot of מעשר and the rest, but every few years we have to do an accounting and publicly declare that we’ve fulfilled it. We don’t have to do that with any other mitzvah. There’s no וידוי כשרות when we eat, no וידוי שבת when we go 24 hours without looking at our phones. Rabbi Fohrman’s AlephBeta has one approach to this question; we will take another, that focuses on this term וידוי. וידוי, confession, is the other mitzvah that involves saying out loud what we have done:
But that’s a negative, announcing what we have done wrong. Why is this declaration called וידוי? Sforno thinks that it is a confession that something is wrong:
But that doesn’t fit the text. In fact, the mishna emphasizes how happy we should be with this declaration:
I understand why שִׂמַּחְתִּי לאחרים is part of the mitzvah of מעשר. Why do I have to be happy, too?
There’s another odd thing about מעשר: it comes with a guarantee:
And, in fact, the mishna understands that this permission to challenge ה׳ is part of the וידוי מעשר:
What is that all about?
I think that the latter two questions are connected. עַשֵּׂר בשביל שֶׁתִּתְּעַשֵׁר is a guarantee. If I give to others, I will be rich. I just have to define “rich” correctly:
The guarantee is ה׳ telling us something about human nature. When we give, we are happy. When we are happy, we are rich.
The declaration of וידוי מעשר is not for ה׳‘s sake, it is for ours. We need to take an occasional accounting of the good that we have done and look back and say, עָשִׂיתִי כְּכֹל אֲשֶׁר צִוִּיתָנִי: שָׂמַחְתִּי וְשִׂמַּחְתִּי בוֹ. People say עס איז שווער צו זיין אַ איד but ה׳ promises that, looking at a reasonably long time scale (3 years), we will see that we are better off for all the צדקה we have given. Rav Soloveitchik says that is why this is called וידוי. It’s not a confession of sin; it is a declaration of what we are capable of, what we have actually accomplished. And we need that, going into the יומים נוראים and the interminable על חטא’s.