Taxes suck. I don’t know of anyone I’ve met in any of my travels who has said, “Hooray! It’s tax time! I simply can’t wait to fill out those forms! Giving the government money is my favorite thing to do!” At best, I’ve heard someone say, “At least this year the government owes me money.” – but the idea of actually paying taxes? Nobody gets excited about that.
This of course comes to mind because in Australia it is tax season. I have never been able to wrap my head around taxes. Anything involving numbers eludes me completely. I have a hard enough time just paying bills because they involve numbers, let alone filling out pages upon pages of confusing forms filled with terms that make no sense and instruction books long as a telephone directory. Sure, I’ve got a law degree, but taxes? Taxes are something I find overwhelming.
It was tax season in this week’s parsha, too. The Jews went to war and came back with some impressive spoils. The soldiers and the people had to share the booty equally – and they also had to pay tax on it. The soldiers had to pay 1/500 in tax and the people had to pay 1/50 (the standard amount of trumah). It makes sense, perhaps, that the people would not resent paying tax on their “winnings” because they hadn’t actually gone out and fought for them. But surely the soldiers, even with their lower tax bracket, resented that they had to pay tax on the spoils they’d worked to earn – and which they had already had to share with the rest of the population.
On the contrary, the soldiers actually wanted to give extra. The officers heaped gifts of gold upon Moshe (Moses). After all, under his oversight as Commander in Chief, he brought them not only to victory, but to victory without any loss of life. Not a single soldier had died!
It is easy to explain that part of the reason the Jews didn’t mind being taxed is because the taxes went to Elazar haCohen. He was the high priest and the Jews understood the important role of the priesthood. They provided a service – helping the Jews to receive forgiveness and to commune with G-d – that was important to every single Jew.
The truth is, we also have taxes to pay that we really should not resent. Our “taxes” to G-d, the 10% of our income that we give annually as miser, is payment for all that G-d does for us. He gives us everything we earn, He gives us the food we eat, the homes we live in, the sun and moon and stars. The least we can do is to pay our taxes to Him cheerfully enough – and it seems to me that most Jews do this.
Much harder is it to pay taxes to our government. Yet, we also should not resent this. We may not always be happy with everything our government does, but we still owe them an awful lot. Think about it. Does your country have roads? Is there a police force? Fire department? Water mains and a sewage treatment plant? Is there a justice system? Is there an army to protect you from invaders? What would your world look like if the government – *poof!* – just disappeared – and along with it all the things it provided? Imagine your world with no infrastructure. No streets, no sidewalks, no subways or metros, no running water in our homes, no police or fire department to call, no public schooling, and so on and so forth. The governments of the countries we live in provide us with so many things we take for granted – but shouldn’t.
The Torah teaches us that we should abide by the laws of the governments in which we live and this includes taxes. By paying attention to the attitude of the Jews toward taxes in this week’s parsha we can learn better how to approach our own tax season.
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