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In the Torah portion of Kedoshim we read about many mitzvot, some of which are categorized as “between man and G-d,” meaning mitzvot that are not directed at another person, and some of which are categorized as “between man and his friend,” meaning mitzvot focused on social-moral issues. It is important to note that the Torah does not categorize the mitzvot into these two categories, but on the contrary, mixes the different commandments and does not differentiate among them. This is so we know and internalize the fact that there is no difference between types of mitzvot, and just as the moral mitzvot repair the person and society, so do the “ritual” mitzvot as well. On the other hand, the moral mitzvot are not any less “religious” than the “ritual” ones. In short, the Torah sees these two categories as equal in status and importance.
Two mitzvot from the social-moral category that appear in this week’s Torah portion are “pe’ah” and “leket”: “When you reap the harvest of your land, you shall not fully reap the corner [pe’ah] of your field, nor shall you gather the gleanings [leket] of your harvest... you shall leave them for the poor and the stranger.” (Leviticus 19:9-10) The Torah deals with an agricultural society. The financially stable person is one who has a tract of land that yields a harvest, while the bottom 10th of society are those who do not own land – the poor or the stranger, meaning a strange person who came from another land and has not yet become established in his new country.
Both these mitzvot speak to an established person who owns land and turns his attention to those who are poor. During the period of harvest, he must leave a “pe’ah,” a corner of his field that yielded harvest; not reap that harvest, but leave it for the poor to take for themselves. In addition, he must perform the mitzva of “leket,” meaning: If during the reaping process, some of the harvest falls from the hands of the harvester, he must leave these spikes on the ground to be left there for the poor to gather for themselves.
There is a third mitzva in this set that is not written in this Torah portion but rather in the book of Deuteronomy, and that is the mitzva of “shichecha.” If a sheaf is forgotten in the field and not brought in to the granary, the landowner cannot go back to get it.
This sheaf must be left for the poor.
If we examine this, we see that there are three situations in which harvest is left for the poor. The “pe’ah” is wheat that was not yet harvested; the “leket” is one or two spikes that were harvested but not yet gathered into sheaves; and the “shichecha” is a full sheaf that was reaped and gathered but forgotten in the field.
The poor are not all equal in their social or emotional situations. There are those willing to work hard for the harvest they receive. Such a poor person will come to the field with work tools and go to the “pe’ah,” the corner, left for him where he will reap the wheat and feel for a moment like a regular person harvesting his field. Another poor person might come to the field empty-handed but still with enough motivation to gather individual spikes of wheat and gather them into sheaves. There are also, unfortunately, poor people who have completely lost motivation. He will not reap or gather spikes of wheat. Only if he finds a forgotten sheaf will he lift it off the ground and bring it home. These three mitzvot are for poor people based on their personal circumstances.
We learn from these three mitzvot about desired social taxation even in modern society, which is completely different from the agricultural society that the Torah deals with. In an agricultural society, there was no need for an organized system of collection since the division between established people and poor people was clear: those who had land and those who did not. In modern society there is a need to establish taxation and levels of taxation based on levels of income, and on the other hand, the need was created to rank those who should receive support from welfare services.
Despite the differences, the principle remains the same: We must not forget those who are poor. Even when we are harvesting the field, or when we are looking at the monthly balance of income, we must remember the weak, those who have not been able to establish themselves financially. When a person believes that what he has is a gift from G-d, he has no difficulty giving from this gift to others and bringing joy to those who expect it.The writer is rabbi of the Western Wall and holy sites.
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