There is an unusual mitzvah performed twice every seven years. It is called Viduy Ma’aser — literally, ‘Tithing Confession.’ But this is not a confession in the usual sense. The individual goes to Jerusalem and publicly declares that he has fulfilled all his obligations regarding terumot and ma’aserot, the various tithes of agreicultural produce distributed to the kohanim, the Levites, and the poor.
We do not find a viduy of this nature for any other mitzvah. What is the purpose of this unusual declaration? And why is it performed so infrequently?
If we seek to continually improve ourselves, we need to tbe fully aware of the true extent of our moral and spiritual responsibilities — whether helping others, refining character traits, or performing acts of holiness. Even when we are completely dedicated to pursuing the path of goodness, we will still be far from fully fulfilling our obligations. This is the attitude of the truly righteous. They see themselves as lacking in good deeds and kindness. This critical self-image saves them from pretentiousness and arrogance, and graces them with a sincere modesty.
However, we must be careful not to be overly self-critical. We should not let this attitude deny us a sense of joy and satisfaction in our accomplishments. For this reason, the Torah teaches that we should rejoice in our good deeds. In the proper measure, this contentment bolsters our resolve in serving God, in the performance of mitzvot and acts of kindness. It is correct to feel a measure of satisfaction and well-being, and not always regard our actions as flawed and inadequate when we have acted properly.
In short: we need set times for regular viduy, to admit our mistakes and faults, so that we may refine our character traits and improve our actions. But we also need set times for a positive viduy, to express our recognition when we succeed in meeting our obligations and spiritual goals.
This positive declaration, however, should be less frequent than our periodic soul-searching. We must avoid the degree of self-satisfaction that can lead to smugness and complacency. Thus Viduy Ma’aser is performed only twice in seven years.
Why did the Torah establish this positive viduy specifically with regard to terumot and ma’aserot? The beauty of tithing is that it encompasses all aspects of the Torah’s obligations. It contains both positive and negative mitzvot — giving ma’aserot as well as the prohibition not to eat untithed produce. It involves our responsibilities toward others — gifts to the Levites and the poor — as well as responsibilities toward God — the special holiness of terumah. And it reflects both obligations of the individual — the farmer’s obligation to tithe — and society as a whole — support of the kohanim and their spiritual service for the nation.
Thus, tithing encompasses all of the foundations of our ethical responsibilities. Viduy Ma’aser teaches us that we should not judge ourselves too harshly, but strive for a balanced self-image, with the ability to derive satisfaction from our accomplishments. This more accurate outlook allows us to see ourselves more clearly, providing strength to overcome negative traits and habits. We are aware of disappointment in our failings, as well as genuine pride and happiness in our successes.
Despite the importance of this declaration, the Torah sought to impress a measure of modesty. Unlike the loud declaration of Bikkurim (first-fruits), Viduy Ma’aser is recited quietly (Sotah 32b). Furthermore, we demonstrate our reticence at praising ourselves by delaying the viduy until the very last moment – the end of the last day of the Passover holiday.
(Adapted from Ein Eyah vol. II, p. 405)