Lazer Gurkow

Tithe for Israel

Israel seems to be a recurring problem for the Jewish people. Ever since Joshua conquered the land, nations have tried to wrest it from us. Our ancestors fought recurring battles against the Moabites, Midianites, Canaanites, Amalekites, Ammonites, and Philistines. Later came the Assyrians, Babylonians, Persians, Greeks, and finally, the Romans, who exiled us from our land.

When we returned in the twentieth century, we hoped for a little peace but were soon beleaguered by a new set of enemies. First, the Ottomans, then the British, then the Arab nations. After peace treaties were signed by Egypt and Jordan, we thought peace would come in our times, but the acts of terror would not let up. Following the Oslo accords, the terror intensified and resulted in another war. And so, the cycle continues.

Every so often violence breaks out and Israel is forced to defend itself. The world media denounces Israel, and the United Nations condemns us. Recently we breathed a sigh of relief with the signing of the Abrahamic Accords. Terror seemed to have quieted down for several years and we thought we might find some peace.

Once again, Hamas began lobbing rockets, forcing Israel to take up arms. Once again, the nations are challenging our claim to Israel and regurgitating the ridiculous claims of Apartheid. Why do they keep complaining? Why must we continually defend our right of ownership over our land?

A Spiritual Response
A quick scan of the biblical narrative tells us that our rights to Israel are challenged when we turn our backs on G-d. Conversely, our rights to Israel are respected when we return to G-d. This Shabbat we will read that our ancestors expected to travel from Sinai directly to Israel. Moses even invited his father-in-law, Jethro, to join them on the final leg of their journey and settle with them in the Holy Land. Yet, as we will read next week, our ancestors committed a collective sin and the journey to Israel was delayed for forty years. Our rights to Israel were postponed.

I won’t point fingers at particular sins and claim that they are responsible for the latest round of violence in Israel. That would be unfounded because we cannot know G-d’s unfathomable mind. I cannot pretend to tell you which sins provoked the latest round of tensions. But I can say with certitude that when troubles befall the Jewish people, we turn to our ancient remedy. In addition to defending our land with weapons and armies, we turn our hearts to G-d. We must each strengthen our relationship with G-d and resolve to increase our observance of Mitzvah. This is a no-brainer to the believer. If we want G-d to do for us, we must do for G-d.

Tithe for Israel
There is an endless list of possible Mitzvot to choose from. I would like to suggest one that is not generally high on our list of resolutions. Namely, tithing to charity. Charity is high on every Jew’s list of Mitzvot. There is hardly a Jew that doesn’t give generously to their favorite charity. But not everyone is scrupulous about giving ten percent of their total income.

It is a daunting undertaking because it means parting with a significant portion of our wealth. Yet, G-d promises us that when we tithe, He rewards us with wealth. Better ninety percent of a wealthy income than a hundred percent of a meager income.

Why do I recommend tithing in particular with regards to stability in Israel?

Pay Your Mortgage
It is because Israel was inhabited by seven biblical nations when Joshua first crossed the Jordan River. At that time, this represented ten percent of the world’s community of nations. The Torah lists the names of Noah’s descendants that went on to found nations after the Great Flood. In total there were seventy. This means that ten percent of the world’s nations were living in Israel.

In other words, by granting us Israel, G-d gave us ten percent of the international community’s real estate. In return, G-d instructed us to give ten percent of our earnings to G-d. Since G-d doesn’t need our money, He directs us to give His ten percent to the poor.

It follows that when we tithe properly, we make mortgage payments on our land. When we grow lax in the payments, the bank sends us a reminder that it can be taken away. It doesn’t arrive as a letter in the mail. It arrives in the form of nations challenging our claim to our land.

Our sages relate that a fellow once inherited a field from his father. At the end of the first year, he was loath to part with ten percent and only gave nine percent to charity. The next year, his crop was reduced by ten percent. He figured that if he could only afford nine percent the previous year, he would only give eight percent this year. Sure enough, in the following year, his crop was reduced to eighty percent.

This continued for nine years until his friends explained that G-d has a contract with us—He gives us ninety percent and claims ten for Himself. When we reduce our payments, we lose a proportional claim to our income. As his payments decreased, so did his crop.

When we apply this story to the collective, we draw a powerful lesson for our times. We don’t know when, where, or how our enemies might strike. But we do know that if we make our payments, our mortgage won’t be canceled. If there is a claim against our home, we must commit to regular payments.

Respond with Love
In addition to strengthening our claim to Israel, our land, charity also strengthens our bond with Israel, our people. After all, there is symmetry in responding to war with charity. Our enemies seek to kill our brethren with hate, so we respond by supporting our brethren with love.

I, therefore, suggest to our brethren across the diaspora. Let us respond to what happened in Israel with generosity and love to our brethren in Israel. Let’s redouble our support for Jewish causes in the Jewish land and let us pray for the day when peace will break out. The era of Mashiach, which we await every day, speedily in our times, Amen.

About the Author
Rabbi Lazer Gurkow, a renowned lecturer, serves as Rabbi to Congregation Beth Tefilah in London Ontario. He is a member of the curriculum development team at Rohr Jewish Learning Institute and is the author of two books and nearly a thousand online essays. You can find his work at