In Parshat Re’eh, Dvarim 14:22-27 we read about Maaser Sheni, the Second Tithe which is separated in the first, second, fourth and fifth years of the Shmita cycle. What is unique about Maaser Sheni is that it is not given to the Kohen, Levi or the poor. Rather, the person who separates Maaser Sheni is supposed to physically take the produce to Jerusalem and eat it there.
The essence of the mitzvah is in verses 22-23:
You shall tithe the entire crop of your planting, the produce of the field, on a yearly basis. You shall eat it before HaShem, your God, in the place that He will choose to rest His name- the tithe of your grain, your wine and your oil. And the firstborn of your cattle and your flocks, so that you will learn to fear HaShem, your God, all the days.
What is the point of the owner’s separation of this tithe from the other produce when he himself will ultimately partake of it?
This mitzvah is of immense value. When you separate the tithe and bring it to Jerusalem to eat it there in order to fulfill the mitzvah, before God, you will learn to fear God.
How can eating, drinking and rejoicing teach people to be God fearing?
Perhaps God commanded them to take a tithe of all of their possessions to Jerusalem to deter them from repudiating the source of their bounty and that they should realize that wealth did not originate with the power of their own hands. It was as if they were giving the king his portion. This portion is “holy to God” and from the table of the Most High.
Nechama Leibowitz points out that you eat from Maaser Sheni “before God.” You are in the presence of God and you should stand in awe of Him.
Something as mundane as eating is taken to a totally different level when it is brought to the Temple in Jerusalem. When one goes through the process of tithing their possessions, bringing them up to Jerusalem and eating them there, they find spirituality that would not have been found if they stayed at home.
One one hand, there are a lot of visitors to Jerusalem today who choose to find spirituality by doing tzedaka and chesed projects with those who are less fortunate. This is similar to Maaser Ani (the Tithe for the Poor) which is given on the third and sixth years. On the other hand, we learn from Maaser Sheni that there is also a value in coming to Jerusalem to seek out God and strengthen our own spirituality by studying Torah, walking the streets or enjoying a good meal.