Emor 5777

Gleanings from the parsha[1]

ובקצרכם את-קציר ארצכם לא-תכלה פאת שדך בקצרך ולקט קצירך לא תלקט לעני ולגר תעזב אתם אני יקוק אלקיכם
When you reap the harvest of your land, don’t finish off the corners of your fields as you reap, and don’t collect the gleanings of your harvest; leave them for the poor and the convert, I am Hashem your G-d[2]

The end of this week’s parsha describes the various Jewish holidays. In between the holidays of Shavuos and Rosh Hashanah, the Torah mentions[3] the mitzvos of peah (lit: corner) and leket (gleanings). When a Jewish farmer is harvesting his crop, there are special mitzvos of tzedakah that he must fulfill. He must leave a corner of his field unharvested, allowing the poor to take as they need. Likewise, when harvesting crops, sometimes some of the produce falls to the ground, known as gleanings. The farmer is commanded to leave those on the ground for the poor to collect. In addition to commanding the farmer not to harvest peah and leket, the Torah adds the injunction to specifically leave them for the poor and the convert. What is this adding? If the farmer isn’t harvesting them, he is inherently leaving them for others. Why is there this redundancy?

Rashi cites[4] the mishnah[5] that the command to “leave them” is forbidding the farmer from helping the poor person do his collecting. The poor person must be left to do it on their own. Now this is strange. The whole point of these mitzvos is to help the poor get what they need. Why only help them half way? Why would it be forbidden to give them a helping hand? The poor would definitely appreciate it. Not only that, but the verse ends by saying: “I am Hashem your G-d”. Rashi says[6] Hashem is promising us that if we follow this command with all of its details, He will give us our due reward. This all seems very counterintuitive.

A possible explanation[7] is as follows: What is the message being conveyed when the farmer helps the poor person do his collecting? It’s essentially the farmer saying: “This is my produce, but here you can take some for yourself”. It’s basically the farmer telling the poor person he is giving him a present. When the Torah forbids the farmer from helping the poor person, it is teaching us that this isn’t considered a present. The peah and leket are the property of the poor person. It’s rightfully theirs. The owner, by helping the poor person collect, would be giving a misleading impression. The Torah is telling the farmer that this is not his property to distribute. It already has been designated for the poor. The Torah adds that if the farmer has this attitude, then he will surely be rewarded.

This sounds like a nice message for farmers, but does it apply to us? The mitzvos of peah and leket are essentially examples of tzedakah. Usually, when Hashem blesses us with extra money, we take advantage of the opportunity and give tzedakah to those who need it. We look at it as a gift we’re giving to others. In reality, it shouldn’t be looked at this way. Really, this money already belongs to them. Hashem just gave it to us to guard, but we aren’t the rightful owners of this money. It really belongs to the poor, and we’re just returning it to where it belongs. If we have this attitude, Hashem promises that we will be rightfully rewarded.

Good Shabbos


[1] Based on a devar Torah written in 5772 by Rabbi Yissocher Frand from Ner Yisroel, Baltimore. It can be read here: http://torah.org/torah-portion/ravfrand-5772-emor/

[2] Leviticus 23:22

[3] See Rashi ad. loc. who points out these mitzvos have been mentioned before (Leviticus 19:9), and gives an explanation for the repetition. The added element תעזב אתם, and you shall leave them, not mentioned the first time, is the focus of this devar Torah

[4] ad. loc.

[5] Peah 5:6

[6] loc. cit.

[7] Otzros HaTorah