An overview of the Jewish concept of ma'aser - separating 10% of one's income for worthwhile causes and holy purposes.
Source for Ma'aser in the Torah:
עַשֵּׂר תְּעַשֵּׂר אֵת כָּל תְּבוּאַת זַרְעֶךָ הַיֹּצֵא הַשָּׂדֶה שָׁנָה שָׁנָה
Separate ma’aser (10%) of all your seed crops that come forth in the field each year.
- Deuteronomy 14:22
In Temple times, Jews separated 10% of their annual crop for a holy purpose. This was done after “Terumah” (a priestly gift) and Maaser Rishon (an initial 10%) were given to the Kohanim and Leviim, who served as educators and spiritual guides.
These crops (or their monetary value) were either eaten in Jerusalem or given to the poor - depending on what year it was in the 7-year Shemittah cycle.
Today, even though we don’t all work in fields –Jews still separate 10% of their income for worthwhile causes and holy purposes, such as Jewish education, charity, and those in need.
What's the big deal about separating 10%?
- Giving makes you happy. As any psychologist will tell you, the more you give, the more you get. In Hebrew, the root word for "Give" reads the same backwards and forwards (נ-ת-נ), because when you give, you are also getting back dividends in satisfaction!
- Partner with God. When you commit to separating 10% of your earnings for holy purposes, God becomes your business partner. All of your hours at work are transformed into mitzvah-time! The act of separating maaser (10%) elevates your work, and God will bless your business endeavors!
- Give back to your community. Our community does so much for us. There are Jewish schools, shuls, tutors, food vendors, restaurants, etc. Setting aside 10% of your income to give back to your community shows gratitude for all that your community does for you.
- Emulate God's ways. God gave you an intricately functioning body before you were old enough to think, let alone say “Thank you.” Why does God do so much for us? God loves to give, just for the sake of giving, even before we ask for it. When we proactively set aside funds for holy purposes, we demonstrate that we, too, love to be proactive givers.
What's so special about the number 10?
The Maharal (Rabbi Yehudah ben Bezalel Loew) explains that the number 10 represents completion. After 10, we return and begin counting from 1 all over again (11, 12, etc.) – 10 is the number that completes the series. Therefore, we set aside 10% of every harvest and 10% of our possessions for holy purposes to demonstrate our recognition that in order to be complete, we need to include God in our lives. In Hebrew, wealth (עשיר) and ten (עשר) share a root, because a person feels wealthy when he feels complete and satisfied with what he has.
Did you know? Each of our 3 Forefathers designated 10% of their possessions for holy purposes!
- Abraham gave Malki-Tzedek (a “priest of G-d”) 10% of all the spoils he had earned by defeating the Four Kings.
- Isaac assessed his field’s produce in order to separate 10% for holy purposes.
- After Jacob awoke from his dream featuring “Jacob’s Ladder,” he vowed to set aside 10% of his earnings for Godly purposes.
Ready to take part in this transformative mitzvah? Speak to your local orthodox Rabbi to find out about the easiest way to set aside 10%.
Many thanks to R' Adam Simon for his help in creating this infographic!