From one of my favorite books, the title character’s description of good Jewish generosity. Not one, but three tithes:
I, for my part, would often make the pilgrimage alone to Jerusalem for the festivals, as is prescribed for all Israel by perpetual decree. Bringing with me the first fruits of the field and the firstlings of the flock, together with a tenth of my income and the first shearings of the sheep, I would hasten to Jerusalem and present them to the priests, Aaron’s sons, at the altar. To the Levites who were doing service in Jeusalem I would give the tithe of grain, wine, olive oil, pomegranates, figs, and other fruits. And except for sabbatical years, I used to give a second tithe in money, which each year I would go and disburse in Jerusalem. The third tithe I gave to orphans and widows, and to converts who were living with the Israelites. Every third year I would bring them this offering, and we ate it in keeping with the decree of the Mosaic law and the commands of Deborah, the mother of my father Tobiel; for when my father died, he left me an orphan.
As the American holiday approaches this week, our nation frets about economic troubles. That first tithe has been difficult for our family since the move. Unforeseen expenses with our other home have put us in catch-up mode and a second writing job I had lined up a few months ago has now fallen through. Still I find myself challenged: do I feel the gratitude for Tobit’s additional tithes? I have a happy, healthy daughter instead of medical worry. I have a revived spiritual life and physical life in prayer and walking around Ames. I work in a healthy, productive, professional, and spiritual environment. Most of this is a big improvement from where I used to live.
While I may not be able to afford a pilgrimage to Jerusalem to disperse money to widows, orphans, and others in need, I do want to keep this passage in mind this week. As I dine with family on Thursday, I will recall Tobit’s generosity, and also his spirit of giving. I can keep writing checks for out tithes, but also keep in mind the virtue of personal contact and presence, especially with my wife and daughter, the students of our parish, our parishioners, and especially the many opportunities life provides for offering kindness.
Anybody else three-tithe thankful this year?
If you want to check out the Biblical justification for these, this is the footnote for these verses from the online NAB: Perpetual decree: Deut 12:11, 13-14. Refusing to worship at Jeroboam’s shrines, the faithful Tobit continued to bring his offerings to Jerusalem; see 2 Chron 11:16. For the various tithes, cf Numbers 18:20-32; 2 Chron 31:4-6; Deut 14:22-29; 26:12-13.