1When you have entered the land the Lord your God is giving you as an inheritance and have taken possession of it and settled in it, 2take some of the firstfruits of all that you produce from the soil of the land theLord your God is giving you and put them in a basket. Then go to the place the Lord your God will choose as a dwelling for his Name 3and say to the priest in office at the time, “I declare today to the Lord your God that I have come to the land the Lord swore to our ancestors to give us.” 4The priest shall take the basket from your hands and set it down in front of the altar of the Lord your God. 5Then you shall declare before the Lord your God: “My father was a wandering Aramean, and he went down into Egypt with a few people and lived there and became a great nation, powerful and numerous. 6But the Egyptians mistreated us and made us suffer, subjecting us to harsh labor. 7Then we cried out to the Lord, the God of our ancestors, and the Lord heard our voice and saw our misery, toil and oppression. 8So the Lord brought us out of Egypt with a mighty hand and an outstretched arm, with great terror and with signs and wonders. 9He brought us to this place and gave us this land, a land flowing with milk and honey; 10and now I bring the firstfruits of the soil that you, Lord, have given me.” Place the basket before the Lord your God and bow down before him. 11Then you and the Levites and the foreigners residing among you shall rejoice in all the good things the Lord your God has given to you and your household.
12When you have finished setting aside a tenth of all your produce in the third year, the year of the tithe, you shall give it to the Levite, the foreigner, the fatherless and the widow, so that they may eat in your towns and be satisfied. 13Then say to the Lord your God: “I have removed from my house the sacred portion and have given it to the Levite, the foreigner, the fatherless and the widow, according to all you commanded. I have not turned aside from your commands nor have I forgotten any of them. 14I have not eaten any of the sacred portion while I was in mourning, nor have I removed any of it while I was unclean, nor have I offered any of it to the dead. I have obeyed the Lord my God; I have done everything you commanded me. 15Look down from heaven, your holy dwelling place, and bless your people Israel and the land you have given us as you promised on oath to our ancestors, a land flowing with milk and honey.”
This whole ritual and idea expressed in these verses (i.e. the first fruits, the prayer, the tithe, etc.) is all about acknowledging God alone is the source of everything.
Maybe you think that’s not a big deal and self evident, “Of course they are giving thanks to God. Whom else would they thank?”
Answer: Just like today’s population chooses to worship and believe there is are sources of things outside of God, so too was the case 3,500 years ago. People then and now worship trees or nature or the universe or energy or mother earth or themselves or the government or whatever. They rarely come to the realization that ultimately everything comes from HaShem alone.
I think it’s likely that these rituals were transformed from ancient pagan practices. Most likely, the people were making offerings to tree gods, or just trees themselves.
Or perhaps they had some gods that were responsible for a particular produce, so they set aside 10% so as to appease the gods and so that they may reward the people with another crop next season.
BUT! and yes this is a BIG BUT…
God has no room for these values and beliefs in His people. We may partake in an old ritual (which I’m sure was extremely meaningful and familiar to our ancestors) but now it will be infused only with Ethical Monotheism, and only the God of Israel will be mentioned and sanctified.
This was a huge leap forward for mankind. The idea that all food ultimately comes from God, and He is the same God who remembered us, cared for us, and took us out of Egypt… WOW! And He is the uniquely ineffable and immaterial God… This single idea allows the mind to expand and realize that there are real forces at play in the world which were all designed by one single designer. Thus, we see the genesis of science and technology from Ethical Monotheism (In fact there is a great book regarding this idea and Christianity in the Middle Ages.)
Ironically, as science and technology has progressed mankind has regressed in acknowledging God for the laws of physics and scientific principles that allow the comforts we enjoy in our modern world.
Today people are maybe grateful to Apple for their latest iPhone. Yes people made the iPhone, but God gave them the resources, abilities, and opportunity to do so. And yes, people worked hard for the money they earned to purchase such luxuries. But again God is the true source of your income. We all know people who work harder and smarter, but they earn less. Don’t think you alone are the source of your bounty.
Everything we have comes from One God who is the creator of all, and He is the liberator who rescued us from Egypt so that we can be His people and do His will. Every dollar you earn is His, and you are given special opportunities (probably on a daily basis) by which you can either do something holy or profane with it. You are also given opportunities to either feel like a victim who deserves more, or you can be overwhelmed with gratitude knowing you are better than you deserve.
The choice is yours.