“‘When you reap the harvest of your land, do not reap to the very edges of your field or gather the gleanings of your harvest. Leave them for the poor and for the foreigner residing among you. I am the LORD your God.’” — Leviticus 23:22
The Torah portion for this week is Emor, which means “speak,” from Leviticus 21:1–24:23, and the Haftorah is from Ezekiel 44:15–31.
In doing some research on relatives that perished in the Holocaust, a friend of mine discovered a survivor that knew his grandmother. Excited to make the connection, my friend asked the survivor if she could tell him something about the grandmother he never got to meet. The survivor explained that while she didn’t know the grandmother well, she had a very vivid image of the woman in her mind.
“My vision of your grandmother is of her running around town just before the Sabbath began with loaves of challah bread under her arms. She would go to the homes of the poor, crack open their doors, throw in a loaf of bread, and scurry away.” My friend was touched by his grandmother’s kindness, but he questioned her mode of giving. “Why did she throw the bread to the poor and not give it to them with a smile?” The survivor explained, “So that she wouldn’t embarrass them, of course!” As my friend’s grandmother knew, there are many ways to give. The best way is anonymously.
In this week’s Torah portion we learn about the commandment to leave a corner of a field unharvested so that the poor and needy can come and take the remaining produce for themselves. God could have commanded us to give a corner’s worth of food over to the poor, but He intentionally commanded us to leave the unharvested crops behind. Wouldn’t it have been easier for the poor if we delivered our gifts right to their door?
Easier, yes. Better, no. Because like my friend’s grandmother understood, giving isn’t just about helping a person out physically. It’s also about helping people maintain a sense of dignity.
Most people fall on hard times at some point in their lives and asking for help from others can make a difficult situation even harder. Sometimes, the only thing that people have left is their dignity, and having to go to someone they know for a handout can take that away from them, too. This is why God prescribes that food be left behind for the poor and not brought to them directly. This allowed the poor to come and take what they needed, in the darkness of the night if they preferred. This way, their needs could be filled while their dignity remained intact.
Today, this beautiful system of giving is not practical for most of us, but the spirit of this type of giving is something that we can still incorporate into our lives. Judaism values giving anonymously or giving to people whom you will never meet or know. This way, your gift is exponentially greater in value as you fill someone’s stomach, without depleting their pride.
With prayers for shalom, peace,
Rabbi Yechiel Eckstein
Founder and President