This week’s Torah reading relates how, after Abraham’s nephew Lot was captured by warring kings, Abraham waged war against those kings and rescued Lot. Afterwards, he tallied the spoils of war and gave one tenth as tithes to Malchitzedek the king of Salem who was a priest to the Sublime G‑d.

We find, however, that when Maimonides lists the different practices initiated by the Patriarchs, he credits Isaac with the mitzvah of tithing rather than Abraham. This is problematic. Abraham’s tithing is explicitly stated in the Torah, while Isaac’s is derived only through an allusion. Seemingly, it would have been preferable to associate this practice with Abraham.

This difficulty can be resolved by understanding why we tithe. The tithing commanded by the Torah involved separating a tenth of one’s crops. Afterwards, our Rabbis extended the obligation to include giving from all one’s income.

When a farmer raises crops, he has a natural tendency to think that the bounty is the outcome of his hard work. He plowed, he sowed, he cared for the crops as they grew, and then he harvested them and separated the grain.

At this point, he must tithe. For, as our Rabbis emphasize, the purpose of tithing is to accentuate how the entire world is G‑d’s. For even after all the work the farmer performed, the success of his efforts is dependent on G‑d and he acknowledges that truth by giving a tenth of his crops as tithes.

In a larger sense, this applies to the challenge of earning our livelihood as a whole. Most of us work hard to earn our living. After expending that effort, there is a natural tendency to think that what we have earned is the fruit of our labor and it belongs entirely to us. The mitzvah of tithing makes us appreciate that “G‑d bless[es us] in all that we do.” Certainly, we must do, but success and good fortune come from G‑d’s blessing.

Now Abraham tithed the spoils of war. But that war was won by miraculous Divine intervention. Thus it is not as effective a reminder that the money that we earn through our own efforts has its roots in G‑d’s blessings. There is no way he could consider what he gave away as his own; it had obviously been granted from Above.

Isaac, by contrast, gave tithes from produce that he had labored hard to plant and nurture. After having done everything necessary to make it grow, he harvested it and separated a tenth as charity. That provides a lesson for his descendants. Even as we are involved in the day-to-day challenge of earning a living, we must realize that it is G‑d’s blessings that are bringing us success. As a result, we should reflect His generosity by sharing our bounty with others and helping to provide them with their needs.

Looking to the Horizon

Our Sages declare: “Charity is great because it brings the redemption near.” Why does charity serve as a greater catalyst for redemption than most other mitzvos?

G‑d desired that man serve as His “partner in creation” by bringing out the spiritual dimension of all material activities. When a person invests himself in a physical activity, but does so for a higher purpose, he brings out the inner G‑dly spark which G‑d implanted in those material entities, redeeming them from this worldly realm, as it were.

Specifically, when a person gives charity from the money he earned — or, from money with which he could derive physical satisfaction — he is bringing the G‑dly intent in that money to the surface. As this process of redemption in microcosm continues, encompassing more and more entities, the world as a whole is made ready for the overall redemption that will accompany Mashiach’s coming.

Moreover, charity involves going beyond one’s natural tendencies and demonstrating generosity. It motivates a parallel activity above, evoking G‑d’s generosity, and causing Him to change the nature of the world and bring about the Redemption.