Deuteronomy 14:22-29

Make an offering of ten percent, a tithe, of all the produce which grows in your fields year after year. Bring this into the Presence of Yahweh, your God, at the place he designates for worship and there eat the tithe from your grain, wine, and oil and the firstborn from your herds and flocks. In this way you will learn to live in deep reverence before Yahweh, your God, as long as you live. But if the place Yahweh, your God, designates for worship is too far away and you can’t carry your tithe that far, Yahweh, your God, will still bless you: exchange your tithe for money and take the money to the place Yahweh, your God, has chosen to be worshiped. Use the money to buy anything you want: cattle, sheep, wine, or beer—anything that looks good to you. You and your family can then feast in the Presence of Yahweh, your God, and have a good time.Meanwhile, don’t forget to take good care of the Levites who live in your towns; they won’t get any property or inheritance of their own as you will.

At the end of every third year, gather the tithe from all your produce of that year and put it aside in storage. Keep it in reserve for the Levite who won’t get any property or inheritance as you will, and for the foreigner, the orphan, and the widow who live in your neighbourhood. That way they’ll have plenty to eat and Yahweh, your God, will bless you in all your work.

This passage was not what I was expecting to read. The tithe isn’t for the upkeep of the tabernacle, as is commonly thought, nor is it even for the well-being of the Levites (who don’t receive any land or other property under Torah). Instead, it’s for a giant party! The Torah commands each Hebrew family to bring a tenth of all their produce to the Presence of Yahweh—the tabernacle, in other words—and to have a massive feast there. This is designed to teach them “deep reverence” (14:23). The note about the care for the Levites is added as an aside, not as the main point, which is reverence in the Presence of Yahweh. This involves having “a good time” (14:26)—even with wine and beer! Of course, in the midst of this feasting, Israel is to remember those who cannot celebrate this way: the foreigner, orphan and widow. Justice is always at the forefront in Torah. It is no coincidence that this passage is immediately followed by a discussion of debt cancellation to empower the poor (15:1-11).

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