This Shabbos we read Parshas Lech Lecha . In this Parsha the Torah describes the bulk of the tests of Abraham, and how he succeeded in passing all of them. One of the tests involved a major war, where four powerful kings defeated opposing armies of five kings. (Genesis 1 – 24). One of the kings defeated, who lost his entire population and all his wealth, was the king of Sodom. Abraham’s nephew, Lot, was taken prisnor along with all the other residents of Sodom, by these four kings. When Abraham heard about this, he ran after the four kings, and in an open miracle he succeeded in routing them in battle, freeing his nephew and all the other Sodomites. When Abraham returned from the battle with the people and possesions of Sodom, Malki Tzedek the king of Jerusalem, came out to great Abraham. The Torah tells us that Abraham gave Malki Tzedek tithe, one tenth of his possesions, since Malki Tzedek was a priest who served G-d. This is one of the sources in the Torah for the mitzvah to give a tenth of one’s earnings to charity, (maaser)as Abraham gave it to the priest who was dedicated to serving Hashem. Nachmanidies explains that this is a sign for the tithe that Israelites would one day in the future give to the Levites.
Our Sages tell us that one who is careful to give a tithe to charity will become wealthy. Yet, often we feel reluctant to do so, as to us it seems as if we are losing money by giving maaser, a tithe. The Chofetz Chaim used a parable to illustrate the fallacy of this feeling. There was once a farmer who used to come to town to sell his wheat to a merchant. They devised a system of keeping track of how many bushels of wheat the merchant was taking from the farmer. Every time the merchant took a bushel, he would put a coin into a bowl. When he finished taking the wheat, they would count how many coins were in the bowl, and the merchant would pay the farmer that many times the price of a bushel. One time, as the farmer watched the pile of coins gettig bigger and bigger, he simply could not control himself. When the merchant was not looking, he quickly grabbed a few coins and put them in his pocket. He felt very good about the “quick money” he had earned. The merchant, of course, now only paid him according to the number of coins that remaoned in the plate, and he lost money on the deal. The lesson, the Chofetz Chaim explained, is that we may think, just as the farmer did, that by pocketing some money that we shouldn’t have we are saving money for ourselves. However, in truth, we are simply losing the chance to make more money. The more careful we are with giving a tithe, the more sure we are to be successful and earn more money.