The Torah commands the Jewish farmer to give away one tenth of his produce to the Levites and needy. This tenth part is called maasser (tithe). On Shemini Atzeret we read a famous portion in the Torah, beginning with the words asser t'asser, meaning, You shall surely give tithe.

The reason this portion is read on Shemini Atzeret, Will be discovered, if we remember that Sukkot is the Festival of Ingathering and Shemini Atzeret is the eighth day of Sukkot(although it is really a separate festival). In other words, this is the time when all the produce of the land has been gathered in. It was, therefore, the time of giving away what was due to the Priests and Levites and other landless and needy people.

Our Sages see in the words asser I'asser an indication of a promise of riches to him who faithfully observes the law of maasser. For the Hebrew words asser (to give a tenth part) and osher (riches) are derived from the same root. And so their saying became famous: Asser, bishvil shetisasher, meaning, Give away a tenth that you may become rich. The Talmud contains many stories of how people who observed the law of maaser were amply rewarded. 'We will tell you one story here:

Once upon a time there lived in ancient Israel a farmer whose land produced a thousand bushels of wheat, year after year. Being a pious Jew who observed the mitzvot of the Torah, his first act after harvesting was to set apart a full tenth of the produce as a maaser. In his case, it was one hundred bushels of wheat, which was quite a substantial fortune. But the farmer cheerfully gave it away to the servants of G‑d. in the Beit Hamikdosh and to the needy. The remaining nine hundred bushels were more than enough to take care of all his needs, with a tidy sum of money in savings. The man was getting more prosperous every year.

The time came to leave this earthly world, and the pious and wise farmer called his only son to his bedside:

"My dear son," said the dying man: "G‑d is calling me, and I am happy to go, for I lived a good life, in accordance with the commandments of our holy Torah. Whatever I possess will now be yours, to do as you please. One thing I want to advise you. Our land produces one thousand bushels a year; never fail to give maaser, and it will not disappoint you."

The old man was gone, and his son now became the owner of the farm. When harvest time came, the land produced one thousand bushels of wheat, as ever before. The son set apart one hundred bushels for maaser, as his father had done.

Twelve moons passed, and once again it was time to give maaser. Now, the possession of wealth had had a bad influence on the young man. He thought that it was a shame to give away such a fortune, and he decided to give only ninety bushels, instead of the full one hundred.

The following year, however, the land produced not one thousand bushels but nine hundred.

Seeing his income decreased, the young farmer decided to make up some of the loss by reducing his maaser. Instead of giving away ninety bushels, he gave away only eighty.

He waited for the next year's harvest quite impatiently. To his consternation, the land produced only eight hundred bushels! Do you think the young man realized that he was playing a dangerous game? Indeed, no… He became stubborn, and kept on reducing the quantity of his maaser. At last a point was reached when his land produced only one hundred bushels, just as much as the maaser which was given away in the good old days when his father lived.

The foolish young man was filled with anger and sorrow. He invited his friends and relatives to his house, to comfort him in his misfortune. At the appointed time, the invited guests appeared. But instead of giving him a sympathetic look and trying to comfort him, they looked as though they had come to celebrate.

The young man nearly lost his temper.

"Have you come to insult me, and mock me in my misfortune?" he cried with grief.

"Far be it from us," replied the guests cheerfully. "We have come to celebrate with you the transfer of your land from your hands into the hands of G‑d. You see, until now you had been the owner of the fields, and you had given a tenth part of its produce to G‑d's charges. Now, however, G‑d owns the land, and you are His

charge, receiving a tenth part of what the land can produce. You have thus joined the ranks of the Levites, and we have come to congratulate you… “

The young man well understood the lesson which his friends taught him. He decided to change his evil ways. How right were the Sages when they said, asser, bishvil shetishasher.