This Shabbat, just like last week, we read two connected parasha’s, Achrei Mot and Kedoshim. Parshat Kedoshim is the parasha that includes the highest number of mitzvot in a parashah – 51 commandments to be exact. One group of these mitzvahs are called the mitzvah “gifts to the poor”. These mitzvahs instruct the Jewish farmer to give his crops to those whose fate has not favored them and who cannot make a living with dignity and on their own.
When a person harvests his or her field, the Torah stops him before the end of the harvest and orders him or her to leave a small area at the end of the field for others. The field is indeed yours – but don’t take over the whole of it.
Let’s demonstrate with the specific mitzvah’s related to each possible scenario as follows:
In the mitzvot called ‘Pehah’, the farmer leaves an area at the edge of the field which is approximately 2% of that field unharvested. The grain grown in this area belongs to the poor who come and harvest it for their own needs.
The mitzvot ‘Leket’ deals with the one or two crops that fall from the cutter’s hands while harvesting the field. In this case the harvester is not allowed to pick up from the ground whatever has fallen, and they are left to the poor who come after the harvester and collect their individual crops. (Do you remember the Ruth’s story?)
The mitzvah of ‘Olelot’ is aimed at the owner of a vineyard who harvests the grapes grown in his vineyard. The owner of the vineyard is commanded to leave the small clusters that have not developed on the branches of the vine, and after his harvest, the poor come and take these clusters for themselves.
The mitzvah ‘Peret’ also deals with the grape vineyard, dealing with individual grapes that fell from the clusters during the harvest – these grapes are collected at a later time by the poors.
To complete the concept, we will add two more ‘gifts of the poor’ written in the book of Deuteronomy:
The mitzvah ‘poor tithe’, in some years, the farmer sets aside a tenth of the crop. (At the third year and in the sixth year of a seven-year cycle) and gives it to the poor.
And the last one is the mitzvah of ‘forgetting’, dealing with a sheaf of crops that was forgotten in the field, which the farmer is not allowed to return and take for himself, but leaves it for the poor.
In fact, apart from a ‘poor tithe’ which contributed a considerable amount of crops to the needy, the other ‘gifts of the poor’ are rather meager remnants of his harvest.
A small unharvested area at the edge of the field, single fallen oats and grapes, a forgotten sheaf or small bunches of grapes_ none of these seem to be an amount that is sufficient for the poor person livelihood. Certainly, if a number of poor people came to the field to take the oats or grapes that the owner of the field and vineyard left for them, they would most likely go home empty handed.
What, then, is the purpose of these commandments?
If the poor cannot make a living from these single crops, why is the farmer required to leave them in the field? And what is the benefit of leaving small bunches of grapes or individual grapes that have fallen on the ground?
It seems that these ‘poor’s gifts’ were not intended just for the poor but rather for the farmer.
The person who owns properties, lands and crops, may fall into the trap of a sense of over control over his property. A person tends to be domineering and possessive which may lead him or her to arrogancy and egocentrism. The Torah turns to man when he or she harvests the grain or gathers the grapes of the vineyard and seeks to educate him or her in humility and to embrace the insight that the land and property were given to him or her by God, and he or she must humbly acknowledge his or her good destiny.
When a person harvests his or her field, the Torah stops him or her before the end of the harvest and instructs him or her to leave a small area at the end of the field for others. The field is indeed yours – but don’t take it over. The same concept holds true for the owner of a vineyard, gather the grapes but do not consume all the harvest. Leave something for others! The sparse clusters will remain on the branch, another person will come and take them. The oats or grapes that have fallen will remain on the ground. The Torah is teaching man that he is not in charge and is yielding to help man to stop his dominance and overcontrol.
Today, most of us are not farmers and we do not have the opportunity to keep these mitzvahs. But we deal with the feelings of control in every area of our lives. Man tends to take control of his house, his property, his family, the road, living with the sense that we are the world’s bosses. The sense of ownership and control accompany us since a young age, especially in the capitalist society in which we live in. The Torah calls us to stop this attitude that everything belongs to us, to leave room for others to benefit and to build a better world together.
Rabbi Refael Cohen