The late conservative talk show host, Rush Limbaugh, used to open his show with the tagline, “Talent on Loan from God”. Whatever your opinion about his politics or character, the idea that talent is on loan from God was a brilliant and humble statement.
Our Gemara on Amud Beis discusses the concept of “Tovas Hana’ah”, which is the benefit of control and assignment that exists for certain forms of Kodesh and Tzedakkah, That is, even if the person does not own the material, as it is dedicated for others, such as Treumah for the Cohen, or Maaser for the Levite, he still has the right to decide to whom to give it to. The Gemara considers the right to choose (tovas hana’ah) to be enough of a kind of ownership that if another is forbidden to benefit from the house holder by a vow, this material would be included in the ban. To resolve a contradiction between two teachings, whereby in one case the maaser ani, the tithe for the poor seems to be under the control of the owner, and thus could be considered a benefit received, and another case where it is not forbidden, the Gemara suggests:
רָבָא אוֹמֵר כָּאן בְּמַעְשַׂר עָנִי הַמִּתְחַלֵּק בְּתוֹךְ הַבַּיִת דִּכְתִיבָא בֵּיהּ נְתִינָה וְנָתַתָּה לַלֵּוִי לַגֵּר וְגוֹ׳ מִשּׁוּם הָכִי אָסוּר לֵיהּ לְאִיתְהֲנוֹיֵי
Rava says that it is possible to explain the apparent contradiction between the sources with regard to benefit from poor man’s tithe without recourse to a tannaitic dispute: Here, the mishna is referring to poor man’s tithe distributed in the owner’s house, i.e., poor man’s tithe that had not been distributed in the threshing floor but was brought home and must now be distributed to the poor who visit the house, as the term giving is written in the verse with regard to such a tithe: “And you shall give to the Levite, to the stranger, to the orphan, and to the widow” (Deuteronomy 26:12), and the owner is entitled to give the tithe to the poor man of his choice, as the benefit of discretion is conferred upon him. Due to that reason, it is prohibited for one who vowed not to derive benefit from people to derive benefit from this type of poor man’s tithe.
כָּאן בְּמַעְשַׂר עָנִי הַמִּתְחַלֵּק בְּתוֹךְ הַגֳּרָנוֹת כֵּיוָן דִּכְתִיב בֵּיהּ וְהִנַּחְתָּ בִּשְׁעָרֶיךָ שְׁרֵי לֵיהּ לְאִיתְהֲנוֹיֵי
There, however, the baraita is referring to poor man’s tithe that is distributed in the threshing floor. Since with regard to such a tithe it is written: “And you shall leave it at your gates” (Deuteronomy 14:28), the owner cannot designate it for a particular person, and any poor person who comes by may take it from him. As the owner lacks the benefit of discretion, one who vows not to benefit from people is permitted to benefit from this poor man’s tithe.
There is a distinction made between “distribution” and “leaving it over”. When it is in the person’s home, it is distributed and still under the domain of the owner. When it is left on the threshing floor, the owner is no longer holding the rights to distribution, and thus if the poor person takes from it, he is not benefiting from the owner.
Mei Hashiloach (Berachos 58a) uses this idea of Tovas Hana’ah as well as the distinction between distribution and leaving over, to explain a difference in the nusach of the blessing made upon seeing a Jewish sage versus a secular sage. The blessing made for a Jewish sage is, “Blessed is He who distributed from His wisdom to those who fear Him”, while the blessing for a secular sage is, “Blessed is He who gave from his wisdom to flesh and blood.” When a God fearing person engages in the pursuit of wisdom, he still remains attached to God, thus the wisdom is like the tithe distributed from the householder’s home, there is still Tovas Hana’ah. God still retains control of the wisdom. On the other hand, a secular perspective on wisdom is just about knowledge acquisition, with no loftier aims. In that case, God just leaves it lying around for you to pick up, but He is no longer connected to it. This is a continuation of the idea we discussed yesterday on Daf 83, without religion to add meaning in life’s pursuits, humans try vainly to fill the emptiness with pseudo-meaningful pursuits, which do not offer immortality.