Hello. I am Meir Salasnik, the Rabbi of Bushey United Synagogue.
I have been asked to speak to you today about why some people give a tenth of their money to tzedakah - charity.
The concept of giving a tenth is recorded first when Abraham gave a tenth of what he had to Malchitzedek, king of Jerusalem and priest to God, who is assumed to be synonymous with Shem, the son of Noach.
Jacob, on waking up from his vision of a ladder linking heaven and earth, promised to God that should he prosper in his exile and return eventually to his father’s house, he will give a tenth of what he has to God. The actual words are ‘whatever You will give me, I will give a tenth to You’. Whatever You will give me may refer not just to possessions but also to time – to setting a tenth of one’s time to God’s work.
In the period of the Temple, more than one tithe was given. There was a tithe given to the Levites, who having no land of their own, were dependent on the other tribes. In some years, a tithe was taken to Jerusalem and eaten there, with the remainder probably being left for the poor, and in other years a tithe was given directly to the poor.
Although without a Temple we do not have these specific obligations, the concept of giving at least a tenth to charity continues.
The donor recognises that everything he or she has comes from God and that while God wants the person to enjoy what He has given him, he or she is also responsible to pass on some of this to others – to be God’s agent and partner in helping people.