Friday, September 08, 2006

The Levi, the proselyte, the orphan and the widow.

My son Alex repeated to me this morning a thought that he told Gavriel my grandson as a Dvar Torah for school. I thought it was excellent and asked him to post it as a guest but he refused and insisted that I write it up.

In this week’s Parsha we read:

יג וְאָמַרְתָּ לִפְנֵי יְהוָה אֱלֹהֶיךָ בִּעַרְתִּי הַקֹּדֶשׁ מִן-הַבַּיִת, וְגַם נְתַתִּיו לַלֵּוִי וְלַגֵּר לַיָּתוֹם וְלָאַלְמָנָה, כְּכָל-מִצְוָתְךָ, אֲשֶׁר צִוִּיתָנִי: לֹא-עָבַרְתִּי מִמִּצְו‍ֹתֶיךָ, וְלֹא שָׁכָחְתִּי. 13 then thou shalt say before the LORD thy God: 'I have put away the hallowed things out of my house, and also have given them unto the Levite, and unto the stranger, to the fatherless, and to the widow, according to all Thy commandment which Thou hast commanded me; I have not transgressed any of Thy commandments, neither have I forgotten them.

When in the third year of the Shemita cycle one finishes giving the Ma’aser Rishon to the Levi, Ma’aser Ani to the poor and has distributed all the Ma’asrot accumulated in the house, one says what is called the Viduy Ma’aser. The text lists the order of the recipients first Levi followed by the Ger, orphan and widow. Why would the Ger be listed before the orphan and the widow? Should it not rationally be the opposite? Do not the poor orphan and widow come first?

Rambam in Hilchot Shemita Veyovel 13:11 says:

י [יב] ולמה לא זכה לוי בנחלת ארץ ישראל ובביזתה עם אחיו: מפני שהובדל לעבוד את ה' ולשרתו, ולהורות דרכיו הישרים ומשפטיו הצדיקים לרבים--שנאמר "יורו משפטיך ליעקוב, ותורתך לישראל" (דברים לג,י). לפיכך הובדלו מדרכי העולם--לא עורכין מלחמה כשאר ישראל, ולא נוחלין, ולא זוכין לעצמן בכוח גופן; אלא הם חיל ה', שנאמר "ברך ה' חילו" (דברים לג,יא), והוא ברוך הוא זיכה להם, שנאמר "אני חלקך ונחלתך" (במדבר יח,כ).

יא [יג] ולא שבט לוי בלבד, אלא כל איש ואיש מכל באי העולם אשר נדבה רוחו אותו והבינו מדעו להיבדל לעמוד לפני ה' לשרתו ולעובדו לדעה את ה', והלך ישר כמו שעשהו האלוהים, ופרק מעל צווארו עול החשבונות הרבים אשר ביקשו בני האדם--הרי זה נתקדש קודש קודשים, ויהיה ה' חלקו ונחלתו לעולם ולעולמי עולמים; ויזכה לו בעולם הזה דבר המספיק לו, כמו שזיכה לכוהנים וללויים. הרי דויד אומר "ה', מנת חלקי וכוסי--אתה, תומיך גורלי" (תהילים טז,ה).

Levi’im were designated as the teachers of Klal Yisrael and God’s army. That is why they are subsidized with Ma’aser Rishon. But Levi is not the only one that can do so. “Every person from all nations” who devotes himself to serve God and to know Him, is assured that he will receive all he needs. Note how Rambam does not limit this to Jews. He includes all peoples who join in searching for God. Is not the Ger, the proselyte, the archetype of such a person? The Mitzvah of giving Ma’aser Rishon is to subsidize the Levi. The proselyte, although he receives the subsidy as Ma’aser Ani - for the poor, he is closer to the Levi than the others. He too has dedicated himself to God. Thus he is listed immediately following him.

The Kessef Mishna could not find a source for this Rambam and assumed it was his own Sevara. It is in this Parsha.

Shabbat Shalom.


  1. A simpler reason for this is that the torah mentions onaas hager. Maaser ani can be given to any poor; almana and yasom are just examples of people who are likely to need it. This can be understood similarly to your explanation. Most understand onaas hager as due to the fact that the ger presumed to be in a specially difficult position as a stranger, ki gerim heyisem b'eretz mitzrayim (and the rambam may agree with that) but the rambam in his letter to R Ovadia Hager conceptualizes ahavas hager as an extension of ahavas hashem. The ger abandoned his old life out of love of God, so those who love the ger demonstrate love of god. This places the ger in a midway position, sharing elements like kohanim and leviim, and so there are additional reasons to prioritize benefitting the ger.

  2. "A simpler reason for this is that the torah mentions onaas hager."

    should be: the many times the torah mentions