Posted on May 6, 2011
by Nathan Dinitz, 2010-11 New Frontier USY Religion/Education Vice President
As I was reading parashat Emor, one pasuk stood out from the rest. It isn’t about the kohanim, nor the holidays, nor the man who blasphemes. It was about two mitzvot that are easily overlooked.
“When you reap the harvest of your land, do not to finish off the corners of your field when you harvest it, and do not gather up the gleaning of your harvest; for the poor and for the convert you must leave them; I am HaShem, your God.” (L. 23:22)
This verse is about two mitzvot: peah, leaving the corners of your field unpicked; and leket, not picking up the crops that drop when you harvest. We don’t get to keep it all. Instead, God commands us to leavepeah and leket for the poor to collect. This verse seems out of place because it interrupts the description of the yearly cycle of holidays. Shabbat, Pesach, waving the Omer, counting the Omer, Shavuot — next should come Rosh Hashanah, Yom Kippur and Sukkot — but before those holidays we get these harvest rules — leave the corners, and anything that drops, for the poor. What is this verse doing here?
Of course, I am not the only one who has noticed that this verse stands out. Even though this pasukmight look misplaced, several commentators say it belongs here for a reason.
Ibn Ezra (Rav Avraham ben Meir ibn Ezra; 1089-1164 Spain) suggests that this pasuk belongs here, between the descriptions of the spring holidays and the fall holidays, because you need to remember about peah and leket — these harvest laws — during the summer. The summer is when you will need to observe them. We learn them here to help us actually remember to leave the corners and the dropped produce when we harvest — and not forget these mitzvot. If you don’t remember that this is the time to do these mitzvot, you might not do them.
Rashi (Rav Shlomo Yitzchaki 1040-1105; France) quotes the Tanna, Avardimas ben Yossi, who says that observing the harvest mitzvot of peah and leket is equivalent to building the Bet HaMikdash, and then offering all the korbanot of all the holidays of the whole year inside it. So, by leaving this food for the poor, one is serving God as if one had brought offerings to the Temple. We serve God by serving other people. According to Avardimas, these mitzvot are here — among the Korbanot of the holidays — to show that peah and leket are just as valuable as the whole community bringing all the holiday Korbanot.
Finally, the Meshech Chochma (Meir Simcha haKohen of Dvinsk 1843–1926; Latvia) connects Avardimas’ comment to a pasuk from Mishlei — the book of Proverbs:
“One who gives graciously to the poor makes a loan to God, and God will repay him (Proverbs 19:17).”
Building on Avardimas and Meshech Chochma, I think that the pasuk is here to remind us that because peah and leket have no shiur — no maximum amount — we should be generous in leaving the corners and dropped produce for the poor, because the poor who are going to take it might not have anything — not even enough to eat. This verse comes after the section about Shavuot — on which we read about how Boaz told his reapers to deliberately drop extra leket for Ruth to collect — and before Rosh HaShana and Yom Kippur — when one is judged by HaShem. As the Meshech Chochmah reminds us, our generosity is a loan to God, and God will repay.
How can we in USY apply peah and leket? How do we share the benefits we reap from our work with those less fortunate around us? As we give to the poor, how can we remember that we’re making a loan to God? Can we be extra generous with this mitzva?
An Example: Giving to tzedakah before lighting shabbos candles each week.
Another Example: Bringing SA/TO funds to conventions with more intention and generosity.