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B3. Eating and Otherwise Partaking of the Produce of Our Work    [Make a Comment]

We may eat of the crops with which we work, but not take any of it away, nor take to excess. If we lack a basic human need and our work involves providing it to others, we may partake of the product or service of our labor within the limits of survival but not of luxury.

This precept is derived from His Word (blessed is He):

Deuteronomy 23:25(24)-26(25) (Maimonides RP201, RN267, RN268; Meir MP65, MN186, MN187; Chinuch C576, C577, C578)
When you enter your neighbor's vineyard, you may eat enough grapes to satisfy your appetite; but you are not to put any in your basket. When you enter your neighbor's field of growing grain, you may pluck ears with your hand; but you are not to put a sickle to your neighbor's grain.

1 Corinthians 9:7
Did you ever hear of a soldier paying his own expenses? Or of a farmer planting a vineyard without eating its grapes? Who shepherds a flock without drinking some of the milk?

1 John 3:17
If someone has worldly possessions and sees his brother in need, yet closes his heart against him, how can he be loving God?

This mitzvah is a form of charity, known in the Jewish world as tzedakah. It speaks to the worker directly, but implies a clear duty on the part of the owner of crops to allow his workers to eat of them while they are at work. One may argue that this also applies to those who work among food items which are not crops. For example, a restaurant worker may eat his fill during his or her work shift, but may not take any of it home. Also, because the mitzvah is clearly one of compassion for the poor, in modern times it extends to industries that provide human necessaries other than edibles such as medical care, medicine, clothing basics, and fuel. It seems to me that it is acceptable to not hire an unshod shoe salesman, but it is inhumane and a violation of 1 John 3:17 to hire him to sell shoes and then not equip him with a pair of his own.

Commentators:
In their respective positive mitzvot, both Meir and Maimonides emphasize the land-owner's obligation to allow workers to eat, rather than the workers' permission to eat. In contrast, Meir's and Maimonides' mitzvot N186 and N267 respectively, state that workers are not to eat while performing their work, but only at the end of their work1. Meir's mitzvah N187 emphasizes that the worker is not to take food away and give it to others, while Maimonides' mitzvah N268 states that a laborer is not to pick more crops than he needs for his immediate meal.

HaChinuch says that at the root of mitzvah 576, is that Israelites are to have good character and exhibit good will. He is in basic agreement with Maimonides and Meir, and all three are very detailed regarding situations and exceptions. This mitzvah is constructed more broadly and its application is not confined to agricultural crops.


1. Permission to eat at the end of work is a Talmudic interpretation.


NCLA: JMm JFm KMm KFm GMm GFm

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