This Shabbos we read Parshas Lech Lecha. In the Parsha we are introduced to our Patriarch Abraham, the father of the Jewish people. Abraham is put through ten tests by Hashem, as he climbs to the heights needed to produce the Jewish people. Most of his tests are discussed in this week’s Parsha. Obviously we can’t in our short Dvar Torah analyze all ten tests, but let us try to examine part of one of them.
Abraham had a nephew named Lot. When they moved to Israel, Lot settled in the city of Sodom, and Abraham promised Lot that whenever he would need his help, he would come to him. One day a major war broke out between the king of Sodom and his four allies, against four other kings. The four Kings overpowered the five kings, and took Lot, the nephew of Abraham, as a captive. Abraham went to rescue his nephew, and alone, miraculously defeated all four kings and their armies. The Torah recounts how after the battle was over, Malkitzedeck, the King of the city Shalem (Jerusalem) came out to greet Abraham. Malkitzedek was a Cohen, a priest to Hashem. The Torah tells us that Malkitzedek offered Abraham bread and wine, and Abraham gave Malkitzedek “maser mikol” – a tenth of everything that Abraham had. (Genesis 14:18-20)An obvious question is, if Abraham was observing the commandments all along, why did he see a need to give tithe to Malkitzedek now? Why didn’t he give his maser – his tithe before this meeting?
I would like to suggest the following explanation: We know that there are two different purposes for maser – a tithe. One is to support the poor – to make sure that they have the food and necessities that they need to survive. This was given in the form of maser ani – the tithe for the poor. The other is to support those who study and teach Torah – given in the form of maser rishon – the tithe given to the Levite. Maimonides tells us at the end of the laws of Shmittah that not only is the Levite included in this idea. “Anyone who separates himself from all other worldly pursuits and devote himself to the service of Hashem becomes sanctified…..and will merit his needs just as the Torah gave to the Cohen and the Levite… “
Based upon this, we could suggest that Abraham had certainly given tithe to the poor people before he met Malkitzedek. However, now Abraham met someone who the Torah identifies as a “Cohen” – not because he descended from a family of cohanim, but because he was someone who had dedicated his life to serving Hashem. Abraham now had the opportunity to give another type of tithe – to support one who has dedicated his life to the service of Hashem. This was the new tithe that Abraham gave, and that is why he gave it now.