Page:Guideforperplexed.djvu/409

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CHAPTER XXXIX

THE precepts in the fourth class include the laws which in our work are contained in the section Zera'im, excepting the laws on the mixture of species: the rules about things to be "valued" and things "devoted" (Hilkot ‘erekin va-haramim), and those concerning lender and borrower (Hilkot malveh ve-loveh) and slaves (Hilkot ‘abadim). When you examine these precepts you will clearly see the use of every one of them: they teach us to have sympathy with the poor and infirm, to assist the needy in various ways; not to hurt the feelings of those who are in want, and not to vex those who are in a helpless condition [viz., the widow, the orphan, and the like]. The purpose of the laws concerning the portions which are to be given to the poor is likewise obvious; the reason of the laws concerning the heave-offerings and the tithe is distinctly stated: "for he hath no portion and inheritance with thee" (Deut. xiv. 29). You certainly know that the Levites had no portion, because their whole tribe was to be exclusively engaged in the service of God and the study of the Law. They shall not plow or cut the corn, but shall only minister to God." They shall teach Jacob thy judgments and Israel thy law: they shall put incense before thee" (Deut. xxxiii. 10). In the Law we meet frequently with the phrase, "the Levite, the stranger, and the orphan and the widow"; for the Levite is reckoned among the poor because he had no property. The second tithe was commanded to be spent on food in Jerusalem: in this way the owner was compelled to give part of it away as charity. As he was not able to use it otherwise than by way of eating and drinking, he must have easily been induced to give it gradually away. This rule brought multitudes together in one place, and strengthened the bond of love and brotherhood among the children of men. The law concerning the fruit of a tree in its fourth year has some relation to idolatrous customs, as has been stated by us (chap. xxxvii.), and is connected with the law concerning the fruit of a tree in its first three years. But it has in addition the same object as the law concerning the heave-offering (Deut. xviii. 4), the dough-offering (ḥallah) (Num. xv. 20), the first-fruit (Exod. xxiii. 19), and the first of the shearing (Deut. xviii. 4). For the first of everything is to be devoted to the Lord; and by doing so man accustoms himself to be liberal, and to limit his appetite for eating and his desire for property. The same is the reason why the priest took the shoulder, the two cheeks, and the maw (Deut. xviii. 3); the cheek being the first part of the body of animals, the right shoulder the first of the extremities of the body, and the maw the first of all inwards.

The reciting of a certain portion of the Law when the first-fruits are brought to the temple, tends also to create humility. For he who brings the first-fruits takes the basket upon his shoulders and proclaims the kindness and goodness of God. This ceremony teaches man that it is essential in the service of God to remember the times of trouble and the history of past distress, in days of comfort. The Law lays stress on this duty in several places; comp. "And thou shalt remember that thou hast been a slave," etc. (Deut. v. 15). For it is to be feared that those who become great in riches and comfort might, as is generally the case, fall into the vices of insolence and haughtiness, and abandon all good principles. Comp. "Lest thou eat and be