The Torah (Leviticus 19:9-10) teaches that farmers must leave the gleanings of their harvest and the corners of the fields for the needy to come and collect This is an early form of tzedakah (justice, charity) that is elaborated on in the Mishnah, the foundational text of Rabbinic Judaism, and found in many Jewish siddurim (prayerbooks). The sense is that land is not strictly our property, but ultimately belongs to God (because “I am YHWH your God”). How can we do this mitzvah (good deed, divine imperative) today?
When you reap the harvest of your land, you shall not reap all the way to the edges of your field, or gather the gleaning of your harvest. You shall not pick your vineyards bare, or gather the fallen fruit of your vineyard; you shall leave them for the poor and the stranger [because] I am YHWH your God.
וּבְקֻצְרְכֶם אֶת קְצִיר אַרְצְכֶם לֹא תְכַלֶּה פְּאַת שָׂדְךָ לִקְצֹר וְלֶקֶט קְצִירְךָ לֹא תְלַקֵּט.וְכַרְמְךָ לֹא תְעוֹלֵל וּפֶרֶט כַּרְמְךָ לֹא תְלַקֵּט לֶעָנִי וְלַגֵּר תַּעֲזֹב אֹתָם אֲנִי יְהוָה אֱלֹהֵיכֶם.:
These are the things for which there are no measures: the corner (of the field), and the first fruits offerings, and the pilgrimage offerings, and deeds of loving-kindness, and the study of Torah. These are the things from which a person eats the fruits [i.e. benefits from the “interest”] in this world, while the “principal” remains intact [as a reward] for the World to Come: honoring father and mother, deeds of loving-kindness, and bringing peace between a person and his/her friends. And learning Torah is equivalent to them all [as it leads to them all.]
אלו דברים שאין להם שעור. הפאה, והבכורים, והראיון, וגמילות חסדים, ותלמוד תורה. אלו דברים שאדם אוכל פרותיהן בעולם הזה והקרן קימת לו לעולם הבא. כבוד אב ואם, וגמילות חסדים, והבאת שלום בין אדם לחברו ותלמוד תורה כנגד כלם.
The mitzvah of giving the gleanings of food for the poor has been adopted by Jewish communities that encourage people to give leftover food to organizations that feed the hungry. Here’s a US Environmental Protection Agency guide to doing that mitzvah.
My Talmud teacher, Rabbi Judith Abrams, of blessed memory, told me that this selection seems to provide an introduction and contrast to the entire Mishnah, which is focused on rules and quantifications. It proclaims that there are some very important things that can’t be quantified, things concerning giving and kindness.
While most of us today are not farmers, we can still observe this in principle by sharing the bounty and fruits of our lives, not hoarding what we have to ourselves. We can give of our crops, our creative work, our money, time, or talents. (And if you are a farmer or serious gardener, there are so many wonderful ways to share your harvest.) The commandment doesn’t say to give everything away and bankrupt ourselves, but to make sure that some of what we have been blessed with is shared with others, because we are stewards on the earth.
Consider and Comment: How do you share your blessings? How can you practice generosity at your next Simchah (happy occasion)? What symbolizes “the corners of the field” in your life?