Sharing the Produce of the Land

Dear Friends,


Among the mitzvos which we are to specifically fulfill in the Land of Zion are mitzvos which require that farmers who are landowners give the following parts of the harvest to the needy:


1. Pe’ah – the produce which is found in the corners of the field (Leviticus 19:9)


2. Leket – gleanings which fell from the hands of the harvesters (Ibid)


The farmer is to leave these parts of the harvest for the needy, as it is written:


“You shall leave them for the poor and the stranger, I am Hashem, your God” (Leviticus 19:10).


The Torah does not tell the farmers to “give” these items to the needy, but to “leave” it for them; thus, our sages teach that the needy have the right to take the produce for themselves (Toras Kohanim). Rabbi Moshe Alshich was a noted biblical commentator of the 16th century who lived in Tsfas, a city in the northern region of the Land of Zion, and in his commentary on the above verse, he offers a reason why the farmers should not distribute these items to the poor:


“You should not entirely reap the corner of the field, take the gleanings of the field and distribute them to the poor, for they will be put to shame in this way. Instead, you must leave the corners and the gleanings untouched. The poor will then be able to act with all due dignity as their own harvesters. This conception is conveyed by the statement, ‘I am Hashem, your God’ – the God of the poor person and the stranger, as well as your God. Therefore give him what belongs to Me with all due dignity.”


Rabbi Samson Raphael Hirsch, in his commentary on the above verse, writes:


“In the state governed by the Divine law, the care of the poor and the stranger is not left to feelings of sympathy; it is not dependent on property owners’ fears of the threat posed to them by the despair of the poor. Rather, it is a right that God has given to the poor and a duty that He has assigned to property owners.”


There is also a mitzvah to leave for the poor the sheaves that the harvesters forgot to take, as it is written:


“When you reap your harvest in your field, and you forget a sheaf in the field, you shall not go back to take it; it shall be for the stranger, the orphan, and the widow, so that Hashem may bless you in all the work of your hands.” (Deuteronomy 24:19)


The “Sefer Ha-Chinuch” is a classical work on the Torah’s mitzvos, and in its discussion of the above mitzvah which benefits the needy, it states:


“There is also a useful benefit in this for the owner of the field, for he will thus acquire a goodly spirit. For in truth, it is of the quality of generosity and a blessed spirit not to give any attention to a forgotten sheaf, so that one leaves it for the needy.” (Mitzvah 592)


A major premise of the Sefer Ha-Chinuch is that our actions can influence our character; thus, good actions can help to develop our character. In an earlier section, it states:


“Every human being is influenced by his actions. For this reason, the sages, of blessed memory, said: ‘The Holy One, Blessed be He, wished to make the people of Israel meritorious; therefore, He gave to them abundant teachings and a multitude of mitzvos.’ ” (Mitzvah 16)



Yosef Ben Shlomo Hakohen  (See below)


A Related Teaching:


The mitzvos to leave for the needy the corners of the field and the fallen gleanings are mentioned again in the middle of the Torah’s listing of the various offerings brought to the Sanctuary on the biblical festivals. The verse states:


“When you reap the harvest of your land, you shall not remove completely the corner of your field as you reap, and you shall not gather the gleanings of your harvest; you shall leave them for the poor and the stranger, I am Hashem, your God” (Leviticus 23:22).


Why were these particular mitzvos mentioned in the middle of a listing of the various offerings brought to the Sanctuary on the biblical festivals? The classical commentator, Rashi, cites the following answer in the name of the sage, Avardimas the son of Rabbi Yose:


“To teach you that whoever properly gives fallen gleanings, forgotten sheaves, and the corners of the harvested field to a poor person is considered as if he built the Temple and brought his offerings inside it.”

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