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B6. Gleanings and Part of Life-Sustaining Commodities Left for the Poor & Disadvantaged    [Make a Comment]

The gleanings and part of every harvest & vintage must be left for the poor & disadvantaged. The gleanings and part of all life-sustaining commodities and services should be reserved for the poor & disadvantaged.

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

Leviticus 19:9-10 (Maimonides RP120-RP121, RP123-RP124, RN210-RN213; Meir ML1-ML4, ML7-ML9; Chinuch C216-C223)
When you harvest the ripe crops produced in your land, don't harvest all the way to corners of your field, and don't gather the ears of grain left by the harvesters. Likewise, don't gather the grapes left on the vine or fallen on the ground after harvest; leave them for the poor and the foreigner; I am ADONAI your God.

Leviticus 23:22 (Maimonides RP121; Meir ML6-ML7)
When you harvest the ripe crops produced in your land, don't harvest all the way to the corners of your field, and don't gather the ears of grain left by the harvesters; leave them for the poor and the foreigner; I am ADONAI your God.

Deuteronomy 24:19-22 (Maimonides RP122, RN212, RN214; Meir ML5, ML8, ML10; Chinuch C221, C592-C593)
When harvesting the grain in your field, if you forgot a sheaf of grain there, you are not to go back and get it; it will remain there for the foreigner, the orphan and the widow, so that ADONAI your God will bless you in all the work you do. When you beat your olive tree, you are not to go back over the branches again; the olives that are left will be for the foreigner, the orphan and the widow. When you gather the grapes from your vineyard, you are not to return and pick grapes a second time; what is left will be for the foreigner, the orphan and the widow. Remember that you were a slave in the land of Egypt. That is why I am ordering you to do this.

In ancient Israel, the life-sustaining commodities were foods grown in the soil, typically grains and grapes. God's commandments to leave the gleanings and reserve a part of the fields and vineyards for the poor and the foreigner were part of His larger plan to provide for those who could not otherwise live (e.g. Ruth 2:2). It is instructive that no such commandments were given regarding herds, flocks, manufactured goods, and artisans' services other than the left-over of certain animal offerings to be given to the Levites. My conclusion, therefore, is that these commandments were not intended to impute broad moral responsibility to the owners of all industries and commodities to reserve a portion of their products for the poor; their purpose was solely tzedakah1.

Although the Scriptures heretofore presented have diminished applicability in today's industrial and technical world, they must be complied with literally in agricultural environments where they can be applied. There are also wider applications of the Scriptures that should be considered by those of us who produce or provide life-sustaining (or even life-enhancing) products and services of a non-agricultural nature, and are moved to comply with the spirit of what God sought to achieve in ancient Israel. In such cases, part of our production (be they goods or services) can be identified and set apart as tzedakah (over and above our other requirements to give tzedakah), and the items themselves or profits there from can be given to the poor and disadvantaged2. Setting aside food and clothing in food banks and humanitarian aid centers is very much in keeping with this concept, and a goodly number of synagogues and churches participate in this kind of charitable giving.

Another opportunity for applying this mitzvah occurs when we inadvertently produce defective but usable products. When that happens, instead of discarding them or selling them at a discount for our own gain, we could donate the irregular items or the proceeds of their sale to the poor and disadvantaged. Examples of such items are blemished fruits, irregularly sewn garments, unevenly cut building materials, discolored fabrics, and dented appliances.

The original agricultural commandments stand unchanged and are mandatory, whereas this broader mitzvah is optional but recommended for prayerful resolution. Regarding those who are wealthy among us, 1 Timothy 6:17-19 has this to say:

As for those who do have riches in this present world, charge them not to be proud and not to let their hopes rest on the uncertainties of riches but to rest their hopes on God, who richly provides us with all things for our enjoyment. Charge them to do good, to be rich in good deeds, to be generous and ready to share. In this way they will treasure up for themselves a good foundation for the future, so that they may lay hold of the real life.

Commentators:
Maimonides, Meir, and HaChinuch interpret the Scriptures of this mitzvah as applying only to agriculture, and Meir numbers them separately as applicable only in Eretz Yisrael. I see no reason to limit even the agricultural application of the Scriptures to HaAretz.


1. See Mitzvah B4

2. In ancient Israel, foreigners were protected by God's Commandments because they were disadvataged, as were widows and orphans.


Agricultural application:
NCLA: JMm JFm KMm KFm GMr GFr

Non-agricultural application:
NCLA: JMr JFr KMr KFr GMr GFr

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