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|When you reap the harvest of your land, do not gather in all that grows in the corner of your field, nor shall you gather the gleanings of your harvest; you shall leave them for the poor and the stranger – I am the L-rd your G-d…(23:22).
This commandment is remarkable in that it is placed in an entirely different context - within the section concerning the Festivals, between Shavuot and Rosh Hashanah. What is the connection between the mandatory gifts from the landowner to the poor, and the Festivals?
The Midrash (Torat Kohanim 13:12) states that these two topics are put together to teach us that whoever observes the laws of giving to the poor is regarded as if he himself had built the Temple and offered the festive Temple sacrifices. The Chatam Sofer uses this idea to explain why Shavuot is only one day, while Pesach and Sukkot are seven. The days after Shavuot – the Festival of Reaping, should involve sharing one's prosperity with the poor. This is equal in its way to the holiness of the Festivals.
This explanation presents the following difficulty. Building the Temple and bringing korbanot (sacrifices) demand great effort and expense. In contrast, the leaving of the leftovers of one's harvest for the less fortunate does not appear to create any real demands at all – these items are just the 'crumbs that have fallen from the rich man's table'. What special qualities do these mandatory gifts to the poor possess?
A similar problem is found when considering the following item in the Talmud (Yevamot 47a).
We say to a person who wishes to convert to become a Jew, "Why do you want to convert? Don't you know that today the Jews suffer many highly unpleasant trials and tribulations?" If he says that he nevertheless wishes to convert… he is further told of the severity of some of our commandments with which he would be expected to comply, and also of the lighter mitzvot – (especially) the penalties associated for the neglect of leket, shikcha, and peah. (Peah and leket are the gifts to the poor mentioned and described above)
Why should the easier mitzvot be mentioned as well as the harder ones? Surely if a convert accepts the more difficult demands of the Torah, it would go without saying that the lighter ones should not create any problems. And in addition, why does the Talmud exemplify the easier commandments with the agricultural laws?
A key point to understanding the connections between the Festivals and agricultural gifts to the poor, may be found in considering two very different interpretations of the opening words of the first paragraph of the Shema: "You shall love the L-rd your G-d with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your might" (Deut 6:5).
The first interpretation is from the Talmud:
Even if he takes your soul – even to the degree of being required to give up your life if it is required of you (Berachot 9:5).
This brings to mind the famous story of R. Akiva, who declared that he came to fully love G-d with all his soul and all his heart only in the last moments of his life, when being tortured to death by the Romans al kiddush hashem (for his upholding Torah demands in the most extreme circumstances). In other words, loving G-d is expressed in public and dramatic deeds, under which heading we may include the building of the Temple and the elaborate ceremonies involving the offering of the festival Temple sacrifices.
However, elsewhere the Talmud brings another, more everyday interpretation to this verse.
"You shall love the L-rd your G-d", means you shall cause the Heavenly Name to be loved by others, through your actions. When a man has learnt the written and oral Torah and followed the ways of Torah scholars, and then speaks in a pleasant manner, and conducts his personal and business affairs honestly and faithfully, what will people say about him? "Fortunate indeed is this man who has learnt Torah! Fortunate is his father who taught him Torah! Fortunate is his teacher who taught him Torah!" (Yoma 86a)
In other words, the act of loving G-d is performed by common decency and respect for the feelings and rights of others. Under this heading come the laws requiring the landowner to leave a small part of his crops for those less fortunate than himself.
These two sources by no means contradict each other. In fact they complement each other. They are two sides of the same coin – loving G-d. And people vary in temperament. Some are very meticulous in keeping everyday mitzvot, including mitzvot bein adam lachaveiro (between Man and Man). But put them in a situation which makes special demands, or, more mundanely, takes them out of their routine, and they will take the easy way out – they will not rise to the occasion. Other people show their best sides only when they are pushed to the very limits of their human resources and endurance, but they do not succeed in keeping the many daily 'small' mitzvot in the 'business as usual' situation. Therefore the Torah demands that we strive to love Him by serving Him on both these levels.
This helps us to answer the original question – why are the laws of agricultural gifts to the poor inserted in the section dealing with the Festivals? In the context of the above discussion, let us reconsider that Midrash that states that this is so because 'whoever observes the laws of giving to the poor is regarded as if he himself had built the Temple and offered the festive Temple sacrifices'.
Giving small items to the poor represents serving G-d in 'small' everyday matters. Both the building of the Temple and the elaborate festive Temple sacrifices represent serving G-d in 'big' matters. The Torah requires the service of G-d on both levels, and He values them equally. One who is spiritually weak in his everyday observance of the Mitzvot must relate to them as seriously as he does to the big ones which, though momentarily more challenging and demanding, often carry the tags of personal satisfaction and kavod (kudos). Indeed, the agricultural laws have that special quality of requiring no creative effort – just demanding that the landowner leaves his own produce behind, for the poor to take away with them. Therefore their observance is least likely to give landowner personal satisfaction… And, unlike the 'larger' mitzvot, he is unlikely to be remembered for observing them…
This article is provided as part of Shema Yisrael Torah Network
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