Sensitivity and Submissiveness

Naaleh_logo Shiur provided courtesy of

Adapted by Channie Koplowitz Stein

Parshat Emor is one of the parshiot that discusses our yomim tovim, the prohibition of working on these holidays, and the particular Temple service and sacrifices to be brought in commemoration of each holiday. However, there seems to be an interlude after the laws of Pesach and Shavuot before the Torah continues with the sacrifices of Rosh Hashanah. The Torah here interjects, “When you reap the harvest of your land, you shall not remove completely the corners of your field as you reap and you shall not gather the gleanings of your harvest; for the poor and the proselyte shall you leave them; Ani Hashem Elokhecha/I am Hashem your God.”

What is this interruption doing at this particular point in the narrative and what is its connection to the holidays being discussed? Why is there an emphasis on “your land… your field,” and why must you then leave it rather than give it to the poor?

Rabbi Munk cites Rashi in explaining that the laws of leket/gleaning and pe’ah/corners are introduced here together with the Temple service for the holidays to teach us that the person who leaves these for the poor is regarded as one who came to Jerusalem, built the Temple, and performed the Divine service there. But we are still left with the question of how these particular mitzvoth are able to fulfill a similar function as building the Temple and bringing the sacrifices.

When a landowner brings the omer and the two bread sacrifices on Shavuot, he thanks Hashem for his prosperity and the produce of his land. But the Torah here teaches us, says Rav S. R. Hirsch, that all Bnei Yisroel, the landowner and the landless alike, are entitled to a dignified existence. Leaving the gleanings and the corner of the field for the poor ensures the dignity and the prosperity of both. The landless become partners with the landowner.

Perhaps these mitzvoth of leket and pe’ah are extensions of the holiday itself, suggests The Chasam Sofer. The Gemorrah teaches that one may continue to bring their Shavuot offering six days after the actual yom tov. In this context, one may view giving tzedakah as another way of “completing” the holiday and preserving the spiritual levels of Shavuot beyond the term of the holiday itself. In a related idea, the Meshech Chochmah notes that our acceptance of Torah at Sinai seems to suggest our acceptance of the spiritual mitzvoth between Man and God, mitzvoth we accept at face value as God’s will, whether we understand them or not. The Meshech Chochmah urges us to consider the logical laws, such as helping the poor, equally God given and ultimately not a matter subject to our understanding. Without our submitting our understanding to God’s will, man can descend to the level of a wild animal. Only when we keep the mitzvoth because Hashem/the compassionate God is also Elokhim/the judgmental God, and we accept all laws as Divinely commanded, can we retain our moral standard.

The luchot themselves, the physical manifestation of the Torah we accepted at Sinai, bear witness to this reality. R. Salomon cites the Shla”h Hakadosh that each of the two tablets was equal to each other not only in the size of the stones, but also in the size of the writing. Although the text of the first five commandments, those between man and God, was so much longer than the text of the second five commandments, the social laws between man and his fellow man, the writing itself on each was equal to the writing on the other. [In today’s technological terms, we would say that the font size was adjusted so that the longer text had a small font while the longer text had a large font.] In addition to accepting that each side is as important as the other, we must also accept that we will invest our full spiritual essence and submission to those mitzvoth that we understand as we invest in the mitzvoth we sense as completely spiritual. If we accept the social mitzvoth only because they are logical and societal norms, rather than because Hashem commanded us, the “moral code” will change with the times and with the particular goals of every nation.

Rabbi Elchanan Wasserman Hy”d, gave a speech in which he cited the Malbim’s commentary on Avraham Avinu’s concern in Avimelech’s realm. The citizens had lovely manners. Their only shortcoming was ain yirat Elokhim/there was no fear of God. In such a place, morality crumbles. Rabbi Wasserman was warning the people before the Holocaust not to trust in the advanced culture and philosophy of Germany. Without a fear of God, they would indeed become barbarians. [In Mein Kampf, Hitler is quoted as saying he hated the Jews because they invented the idea of a conscience/IE., fear of God. CKS] The Jews keeps these social/moral laws not because we understand them, but because Hashem wills it. We should accept them just as we accept the inscrutable laws of shatnes or of the parah adumah/red heifer. On Shavuot, we accept the totality of the Torah, all the mitzvoth Hashem has commanded us, both spiritual and social.

Rabbi Shimon Shkop is cited by Rabbi Berger in Widen Your Tent as stating that the entire purpose of the Torah is to teach human beings to do good for others. Our great Sage Hillel understood this. In the well known story, when the would-be convert approached Hillel, Hillel told him that the entire Torah can be boiled down to one precept: “That which is hateful to you, do not do unto others. All the rest is commentary.” The Torah is meant to teach us sensitivity and empathy.

When we were in our own land, the Gemorrah tells us that a potential convert was taught the laws of leketpe’ahshikchah, and maaser – laws that inculcate within us care for others. This is precisely why these laws are introduced here, right after the laws of the service for Shavuot when we received the Torah. Further, these are the laws highlighted in Megillat Ruth, the Megillah we read on Shavuot which recounts the conversion of King David’s ancestress from a Moabite to a Jewess who fully accepts all the mitzvoth of the Torah.

As we see, there is a deep correlation between the “spiritual” mitzvoth and the “social” mitzvoth. Rabbi Wolbe notes that the two categories inform each other. When you open your heart to the other to form a relationship with him, you are also training yourself to open your heart to the Other and form a relationship with Him. Your yirah/awe of Hashem should open your eyes to r’iyah/seeing others.

But in finding ways to help the poor, we must always maintain their dignity, writes Rabbi Gamliel Rabinowitz in Tiv Hatorah. After all, as we’ve noted, leaving these gifts for the poor is like building the Beit Hamikdosh. The highest form of tzedakah is to leave it for them, for then they will not be embarrassed by our seeing them take it. It is this form of tzedakah that will eventually (I”YH soon) redeem Zion and allow us to rebuild the Beit Hamikdosh. In the interim, the poor have become our Beit Hamikdosh, and by offering them sustenance, we are in effect bringing an offering to the Beit Hamikdosh, coming close to Hakodosh Boruch Hu. The sensitivity to others must infuse our mitzvah observance even when we are observing a “spiritual” mitzvah. Rabbi Shlomoh Zalman Auerbach would recite the blessing of the [fruit bearing] trees over one tree in a widow’s back yard rather than over the preferable two trees elsewhere so that the widow would enjoy witnessing this over her tree from her window.

We have thus far discussed how these mitzvoth relate to the previous verses dealing with Pesach and Shavuot. However, they also relate forward to the holiday of Rosh Hashanah. Let us now discuss that relationship.

As we know, on Rosh Hashanah we are validating Hashem’s sovereignty over the world, and we coronate Hashem as King. But, says Rabbi Scheinerman citing the Seforno, Hashem is King equally over the reapers as over the gleaners, over the rich and over the poor alike. Every human being was created in His image. Therefore, the verse ends in “I am Hashem Elokhecha” before the Torah continues with the holiday of the seventh month, Tishrei, Rosh Hashanah. Today, we continue taking care of Hashem’s children, our brothers, before Rosh Hashanah. We customarily increase our tzedakah giving and our acts of chesed during this season.

In Be’er Moshe, Rabbi Moshe Stern further develops the theme of Malchut/Sovereignty, for on Rosh Hashanah we proclaim Hashem’s sovereignty over the world. By leaving the corner of my field for the poor, I acknowledge that the land does not really belong to me but to my Master, and as His servant, I am fulfilling my Master’s command. When a convert is taught these laws as part of his initiation into Judaism, he accepts that everything he has belongs to Hashem. He himself is the administrator, but not the owner of the property.

Now we can understand why the property owner must leave the gleanings and the corner field for the poor rather than personally give him the grain. In effect, writes Rav Mi Zecharya in Emek Haparshah, it is not the farmer who is giving to the poor, but the poor accepting from Hashem. Both the landowner and the gleaner recognize that the field belongs to Hashem and is merely on loan to the landowner. The landowner receives no recognition and the poor man retains his dignity without embarrassment.

This condition applies to all forms of tzedakah. If the recipient feels embarrassed, the donor is not fulfilling the mitzvah properly. Connection to Hashem requires one to nullify his ego. Giving without receiving recognition is a step in that direction. By expelling one’s ego, one creates space for Hakodosh Boruch Hu to enter.

In Shaarei Chaim, Rabbi Goldstein connects the dots for us. Everything we do requires preparation, especially our service to Hashem. In terms of the Beit Hamikdosh, the structure first needed to be built before any sacrifices could be offered there. On Pesach and Shavuot we built the structure of our relationship with Hashem. That relationship was solidified and actualized on Rosh Hashanah, when we coronate Hashem as King and submit to His sovereignty. In the agricultural laws we are discussing, focusing one’s mind and consciously designating a corner of the field, the machshavahkavanah, constitutes preparation, while actually walking away, leaving the gleanings and the corner field is the actualization of the mitzvah, the ma’aseh.

In Yiddishkeit, everything revolves around preparation, writes Rabbi Pincus. While this Parshah deals with the connection between Pesach, Shavuot and Rosh Hashanah, we know we can’t celebrate Shabbat without advance preparation. The necessity for preparation is true for every mitzvah.

Rabbi Birnbaum turns our discussion in a different direction. Hashem has gifted us with emotions and relationships so that we can use them to connect with Him. In Bekorei Shemo, Rabbi Birnbaum notes that parents and children like to be live each other physically as well as emotionally. Parents will often move to their children’s neighborhood to be close to them, and children will often move back to their hometowns. Similarly, Hashem wants to be close to His children, and commanded us to build Him a dwelling place among us. We recognize our personal relationships with our sons, daughters, servants and maidservants. Hashem maintains a special relationship with the Levi, the convert, the orphan, and the widow. When we leave a corner of our field for the poor to take food with dignity, it is as if Hashem comes down to that field and dwells there, akin to a mini Beis Hamikdash. The owner’s ability to ‘let go’ is akin to the sacrifices that they offer.

Only one who feels that all he has belongs to Hashem can connect fully to Hashem. He leaves his field for the poor because it’s not really his, but Hashem’s. But he further understands that everything, even his body, belongs to Hashem. When he brings an animal offering to Hashem, he is metaphorically offering his own blood and his own bones upon the altar. When one internalizes this message, one accesses the feeling of connection to Hakodosh Boruch Hu not only on the special days of yom tov, but every day of the year. He has fully accepted the yoke of Heaven and built a Tabernacle in his own heart.