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"Your gift shall be reckoned for you as the grain of the threshing floor and as the ripeness of the vat" (18:27)
The Parasha relates Korach's revolt over who was eligible for leadership and privilege, and its aftermath. The latter includes G-d affirming who indeed was to be in the inner circle - the Kohanim, and in the outer circle - the Leviim, and in what ways they were to be supported by the community. The Kohanim received parts of the korbanot in the capacity of guests at G-d's table (Sforno to 18:9), as well as terumot, bechor beheima, the silver shekels from pidyon haben, and other gifts. The Leviim were supported with ma'aser, one tenth of the produce of the other tribes.
In addition, the Leviim themselves were required to give a tenth of what they received to the kohanim as terumat ma'aser. The Torah declares that that gift "shall be reckoned for you as the grain of the threshing floor and as the ripeness of the vat".
The Halachic explanation is that terumot are separated when the produce is ready for use, which is after the grain has been threshed and the olive oil and grape juice have been poured into the vat. At that stage the produce is mekabel tum'a - capable of becoming ritually unclean. The donor has to ensure that it is all kept tahor, ritually clean, so that the Kohen and his family may consume it in that state.
In addition, supporting those who serve the community in this way brings wealth to the supporter. The letters of aser ta'aser (Deut. 14:22) simultaneously mean "you must give a tenth" and "give a tenth, and you will become rich" (Shabbat 119a). [This point, by the way, is more widely applied to include today's practice of giving a tenth of one's income to tzedaka.]
It is in this frame that the Sforno explains "Your gift shall be reckoned for you as the grain of the threshing floor and as the ripeness of the vat". Just as the mandatory Israelite gifts of grain and oil to Kohanim bring blessings of prosperity to the donor's household, so do mandatory Leviim gifts to the Kohanim bring blessings of prosperity to the donor's household.
The Torah needs to reaffirm that blessing for the Leviim for the following reason. The Gemara (Taanit 8b) brings a tradition that blessings generally do not rest on what is set aside in precise measure, weight, or number. Teruma, from an Israelite to a kohen has no precise Torah-ordained measure. Terumat ma'aser, in contrast, is fixed at one tenth (18:26). Therefore the Torah is comparing terumat ma'aser to teruma to reassure the Levite that he will receive the same blessing of affluence as the Israelite who also gives grain from the threshing floor and oil and wine from the press.
For those looking for more comprehensive material, questions and answers on the Parasha may be found at http://www.shemayisrael.com/parsha/solomon/questions/ and on the material on the Haftara at http://www.shemayisrael.com/parsha/solomon/haftara/ .
Written by Jacob Solomon. Tel 02 673 7998. E-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org for any points you wish to raise and/or to join those that receive this Parasha sheet every week.
Parashiot from the First, Second, and Third Series may be viewed on the Shema Yisrael web-site: http://www.shemayisrael.com/parsha/solomon/archives/archives.htm
Also by Jacob Solomon:
This article is provided as part of Shema Yisrael Torah Network
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