Rabbi David Walk, Education Director

Congregation Agudath Sholom | 301 Strawberry Hill Ave | Stamford, CT 06902 (203)-358-2200 www.agudathsholom.org

Wednesday, April 24, 2013

Walk Article



Rabbi David Walk


Chapter 23 of Leviticus is one of those sections of the Torah which we encounter very often.  Only the descriptions of the sacrifices in Parshat Pinchas (Numbers, chapters 28-29) are read more often than this chapter.  Besides the annual reading during the yearly Torah cycle we also read this section on all the Pilgrimage Festivals.  So, it's always surprising that whenever I open this section I find new material which I've never noticed before.  There's a certain irony in that, because the novel approach I'd like to present is based on the agricultural material concerning how to treat the produce left behind while gathering my crops.  So, Torah study and reaping have something in common.  Every time through the field of endeavor there's stuff to garner, but there will always be something left behind.  Thank God for that, because I will have to write an article about this Parsha again next year.

            The point I want to explore and develop first caught my attention in an article written by Harav Aharon Lichtenstein, the great Rosh Yeshiva of Yeshivat har Etziyon in Alon ShvutIsrael.  The issue which Rav Lichtenstein points out is the repetition and placement of the mitzvah to leave over crops for the poor.  Here is the passage in this week's Torah reading:  When you reap the harvest of your Land, you shall not completely remove the corner of your field during your harvesting, and you shall not gather up the gleanings of your harvest. Rather, you shall leave these for the poor person and for the stranger. I am the Lord, your God (Leviticus 23:22).  Compare that verse with last week's parsha when we read:  When you reap the harvest of your land, you shall not fully reap the corner of your field, nor shall you gather the gleanings of your harvest. And you shall not glean your vineyard, nor shall you collect the fallen individual grapes of your vineyard; you shall leave them for the poor and the stranger. I am the Lord, your God (19:9-10). Sound familiar?  Rav Lichtenstein then asserts that there are two blatant questions arising from these texts.  First, why does the Torah repeat itself on consecutive weeks?  And secondly, why is it necessary for this repetition to appear in the middle of the section discussing holidays?  It seems totally out of place in that context.

            To answer the second question, Rashi brings a statement from the Midrash: Rabbi Avdimi the son of Rabbi Joseph says: Why does Scripture place this passage in the very middle of the laws regarding the Festivals-with Passover and Shavuoth on one side and Rosh Hashanah, Yom Kippur, and the Festival of Succoth on the other? To teach you that whoever gives gleanings, forgotten sheaves, and the corners to the poor in the appropriate manner, is deemed as if he had built the Holy Temple and offered up his sacrifices properly within it (Torath Kohanim 23:175).  The Torah Temimah (Rav Baruch Halevi Epstein, 1860-1941) comments on this Midrash that part of the purpose of the Pilgrimage Festivals was to support the Cohanim and the poor of Jerusalem.  Rav Avraham ben Moshe Ibn Ezra (1089-1164) suggests that it just makes sense to record the mitzvah right before commanding us to celebrate Shavuot, because that's when our ancestors began reaping, and they required the reminder at that particular time to be concerned for the gifts for the poor.  Sadly, it's all too easy to get overly focused on your own needs while working the fields. Some say that this is why we read Megillat Ruth on Shavuot, because it beautifully describes the poor gleaners in the fields. These answers help for the second question, but we still don't understand why this material is repeated just one week apart.

            Here Rav Lichtenstein makes a very powerful point, which he claims can be derived from a careful reading of the Ibn Ezra.  Last week, in Parshat Kedoshim, the context of the mitzvah to separate gifts for Cohen, Levi and the poor is a section discussing corrupt individuals.  That same chapter is filled with mitzvoth about refraining from anti social behavior.  "You shall not steal; you shall not deal deceitfully or falsely with one another... You shall not defraud your fellow. You shall not commit robbery. The wages of a laborer shall not remain with you until morning. You shall not insult the deaf or place a stumbling block before the blind… You shall not take vengeance or bear a grudge against your countrymen."  The Torah here speaks to a delinquent who harbors no concern for those around him and is willing to do anything for money. The Torah therefore speaks of one who comes "liktzor," who goes to his field with the intent of harvesting it all, without leaving the legally mandated portions for the indigent.  On the other hand this week's parsha is discussing a God fearing farmer, about whom we are concerned that his focus on the Omer and the holidays may allow him to ignore the poor in his midst.

            This last point, I believe, is worth more investigation.  I think that sometimes we Jews get so involved in our obligations to God that on occasion we neglect the needs of the people all around.  It's okay to close our eyes tight to recite Shema Yisrael, but right afterward we have to open them wide to the realities of the society in which we find ourselves.  We are being reminded that true devotion to God requires kindness and concern for God's creatures in need.

            Maybe the Torah puts these verses right in the middle of the mitzvoth of the holidays to remind us to share our holidays with others.  Most of us aren't fulfilling these mitzvoth in the wheat fields or apple orchards any more, but we can accomplish the same thing at the Shabbat and Yom Tov table.


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