Emor 5778

Receiving life for giving life[1]

ובקצרכם את-קציר ארצכם לא-תכלה פאת שדך בקצרך ולקט קצירך לא תלקט לעני ולגר תעזב אתם אני יקוק אלקיכם: דבר אל-בני ישראל לאמר בחדש השביעי באחד לחדש יהיה לכם שבתון זכרון תרועה מקרא-קדש
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. Speak to the Children of Israel, saying: “In the seventh month, in the first of the month, it will be for you a day of rest, of remembrance, of shofar-blasts, [and] a holy convocation[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. Why are these mitzvos placed here? It seems to serve as some sort of an introduction to the holiday that follows it, Rosh Hashanah[4]. What is this teaching us?

Rosh Hashanah is called in the holiday prayers as Yom HaDin, the Day of Judgement[5]. Hashem, the Ultimate Judge, is described[6] as One who judges fairly and properly. The reason for this is that Hashem judges a person as they are right now, without focusing on the mistakes they’ve made in the past[7]. They could have committed a misdeed previously, but if they’ve sincerely repented, they are judged for a good year. They are judged for “life”.

It happens to be that in the rainy season, the Jewish people have more time to focus on Torah and mitzvos. This is unlike the harvest season, where there is so much work to be done. The reaping, the picking, the gathering, it’s overwhelming. It ends up happening that Torah and mitzvos get neglected. All of this, right before Rosh Hashanah, the Day of Judgement. How can these innocent workers expect a positive court decision? It would have been much better to establish Rosh Hashanah around the time of Pesach, the end of the rainy season. Why did Hashem engineer it this way, seemingly to the detriment of His children[8]?

The gemarra recounts[9] a story about Binyomin, the son of Yaakov. At some point in his life, he was in charge of the tzedakah in his area. One day, a woman came to him and requested food for her and her seven sons. He really wanted to help her, but he assured her that the tzedakah funds were entirely drained; he couldn’t help her. She pleaded with him, informing him that if she doesn’t get the food she needs, she and her seven sons will die of starvation. After hearing this, without hesitation, Binyomin fed her from his own funds. Years later, Binyomin was deathly ill. The Ministering Angels asked G-d for justice, saying that the rule is that someone who saves even one life is as if they have saved an entire world[10]. Binyomin, who nourished this woman and her seven sons, all the more so should be spared. His decree was subsequently[11] torn up, and twenty-two years[12] were added to Binyomin’s life. In order to get extra years of life, it had to be measure for measure[13]. That is, he had to give life to someone else. Therefore, Hashem rewarded him in kind.

On Rosh Hashanah, we are judged for life, or for death. How can we guarantee a ruling of life? It also needs to be measure for measure. Therefore, the summer months are designated for work in the fields. Each step of the way there’s the opportunity to help the poor. As the farmer is about to reap his crops, he is commanded to leave over a corner for the poor. As crops fall to the ground, they are to remain available for the poor to take. There are many other mitzvos as well[14]. However, these gifts are not like those normally given to the Kohanim and Leviim. In those cases, the owner of the produce can choose whom to give to. Not so when it comes to the mitzvos mentioned in this weeks parsha. The Torah specifically commands to leave them for the poor. We don’t have a say who gets them.

What this means is that someone who we might not want to receive these gifts, has every right to take them; even if we feel that they aren’t deserving. A person who spent their whole summer working the field will end up giving their produce away to complete strangers, who might not even be worthy! If Hashem were to then judge this person as not deserving life, how can that be considered measure for measure? Of course it would only be just to then judge him for life, whether they were deserving or not. This is why there is the juxtaposition between these tzedakah mitzvos and Rosh Hashanah. Give the poor the produce, in order to sustain them, whether they are deserving or not. This will help a person on Rosh Hashanah get a good judgement, measure for measure.

Good shabbos

[1] Meshech Chochmah to Leviticus 23:22

[2] Leviticus 23:22, 24

[3] See Rashi ad. loc. who points out these mitzvos have been mentioned before (Leviticus 19:9), and gives an explanation for the repetition

[4] Although it’s easier to say it’s a conclusion to the holiday of Shavuos, as it’s in the same paragraph as these mitzvos. See the beginning of the Meshech Chochmah on this verse, who also explains this juxtaposition

[5] Based on Rosh Hashana 1:2

[6] Psalms 9:9

[7] The Meshech Chochmah cites this from the Yerushalmi Rosh Hashanah 1:3. The Bavli in Rosh Hashanah 16b learns this idea from Yishmael, the son of Avraham, from the verse באשר הוא שם (Genesis 21:17). Rav Kupperman in his commentary to Meshech Chochmah points that that there, the point is Hashem doesn’t focus on sins that the person will commit in the future. However, the Meshech Chochmah is focusing on sins committed in the past. This could be why he doesn’t cite the Bavli

[8] Deuteronomy 14:1

[9] Bava Basra 11a

[10] Sanhedrin 4:5

[11] I couldn’t find an explanation for why Binyomin got sick in the first place, such that the Angels had to intercede on his behalf

[12] Corresponding to the twenty-two letters used in the Torah (Eitz Yosef ad. loc.). The Chofetz Chaim in Ahavas Chesed II 21:3 (in a footnote) says that the verses in Leviticus 25:35, 36, which discuss supporting someone destitute, contain twenty-two words

[13] The concept of מדה כנגד מדה is mentioned in Nedarim 32a. This concept seems to be the same as במדה שאדם מודד בה מודדין לו (Sotah 1:7)

[14] For example, שחכה (Deuteronomy 24:19). See also Bamidbar Rabbah 10:1 and 20:19