“Fields of Gold” Parashat Emor / Kedoshim 5779

Parashat Emor takes us on a deep dive into the Jewish holidays. The Torah follows a chronological path. Beginning from Passover[1], we pass through the counting of the Omer to Shavuot, Rosh HaShanah, Yom Kippur, and Sukkot, and we finish up with Shemini Atzeret. Each holiday is described along with its pertinent mitzvot: On Passover we eat matzo, on Rosh HaShanah we blow the shofar, on Yom Kippur we fast, and on Sukkot we sit in the Sukkah and wave the lulav.

For some reason, almost like a golden dandelion growing in the middle of a manicured green lawn, the description of the holidays contains a completely extraneous mitzvah [Vayikra 23:22]: “When you reap the harvest of your land, you shall not completely remove the corner of your field during your harvesting and you shall not gather the gleanings of your harvest. [Rather,] you shall leave these for the poor person and for the stranger.” The Torah is describing the mitzvah of “Leket” – “Gleaning” – the prohibition of gathering wheat that falls to the ground during threshing. The fallen wheat becomes the property of the poor, who are permitted to enter the field in order to pick up all of the wheat that has fallen on the ground. The obvious question is what is gleaning doing here in the middle of the holidays? We can put an even finer point on our question if we look back only one parasha to Parashat Kedoshim[2], where we encounter nearly identical words [Vayikra 19:9-10]: “When you reap the harvest of your land, you shall not fully reap the corner of your field, nor shall you gather the gleanings of your harvest… you shall leave them for the poor person and the stranger.” Why does the Torah repeat itself nearly verbatim and why here?

Rashi, the most famous of the medieval commentators, proposes an answer[3]: “[But Scripture has already stated this, “When you…reap its harvest…”.] Scripture repeats it once again, [so that one who disobeys] transgresses two negative commands. Rabbi Avdimi the son of Rabbi Joseph says: Why does Scripture place this [passage] in the very middle of [the laws regarding] the Festivals, with Passover and Shavuot on one side and Rosh Hashanah, Yom Kippur, and the Festival [of Sukkot] on the other? To teach you that whoever gives gleanings, forgotten sheaves (shikcha), and the corners of the field (pe’ah), to the poor in the appropriate manner, is deemed as if he had built the Beit HaMikdash and offered up his sacrifices within it.” Rashi makes two points. His first point addresses the question of why the Torah mentions the prohibition of gleaning twice. His second point addresses the question why the second prohibition appears specifically at this point in the Torah. Let’s summarize this second point. The Torah chose to locate the second prohibition of gleaning in a location where it is “surrounded by holidays”, at the mid-point in the Torah’s discussion of holidays, in order to link gleaning with one of the primary motifs of the holidays: the offering of sacrifices in the Beit HaMikdash.

Rabbi Yisachar Dov Berish Tornheim, who lived in Wolbὁrz, Poland, in the late eighteenth century, writing in “Ohel Yisachar”, offers an insight into Rashi’s explanation: The prohibition of gleaning should remind us that a person must be extremely humble, like a pauper in need of charity. Moreover, he should consider himself a fallen sheave of wheat without any inherent value. This explains the proximity of gleaning to the holidays: A person must not take pride in keeping the mitzvot of the holidays, because if he does, that will retroactively render his actions null and void. But if he remains humble and unassuming, it will be as if he built a Temple and offered sacrifices in it, as our Sages teach in the Talmud in Tractate Nedarim [43a] “One who is humble has [metaphorically] offered each one of the sacrifices.”

Something about Rashi’s style in his second point seems odd. Rashi is quoting the Midrash in Torat Kohanim, the halachic Midrash of the Book of Vayikra. Rabbi Menachem Mendel Schneerson, the last Lubavitcher Rebbe, notes that when Rashi quotes the Midrash, he very rarely mentions the name of the person whom he is quoting, so that when he does mention a name, he does so for a reason. Rashi specifically mentions that it was Rabbi Avdimi the son of Rabbi Joseph who authored the “Gleaning-Surrounded-by-Holidays hypothesis”. What is the connection between this Rabbi and his hypothesis?

To answer this question, we must perform a background check on Rabbi Joseph, Rabbi Avdimi’s father. In a previous lesson[4], we discussed Rabbi Abraham Twerski’s differentiation between the concepts of self-esteem and arrogance. Rabbi Twerski, a scion of the Chernobil Hassidic dynasty, is also a psychiatrist and a world expert on substance abuse. Rabbi Twerski teaches that self-esteem comes from knowing what one has accomplished. Humility comes from knowing what one has not yet accomplished, although he is able of doing so. A person should be proud of who he is and what he has done but he must always remain aware of all that he still needs to do. A person must always be conscientious of his great potential. Humility springs not from self-abnegation, but from self-confidence. This can help us understand a particularly strange piece of Talmud at the end of Tractate Sotah [49b]. The Mishna on the previous page taught that since Rabbi Yehuda HaNasi died, humility has been absent from the world. Rabbi Joseph comes along and says that this is not entirely true, as “there is myself.” Isn’t this a self-contradicting statement? How can a person stand up and say, “Hey, you forgot about me! I’m humble!” With Rabbi Twerski’s understanding, the Talmud becomes clear. To be truly humble, one must know what he is truly capable of. This is a difficult question for a person to answer candidly. Most people tend to grossly underestimate their potential. However, Rabbi Joseph knew something about his capabilities that few other people could ever have known. The Talmud in Tractate Nedarim [41b] tells how Rabbi Joseph became ill and forgot everything he had ever learned. The Talmud is rife with examples of his students “reminding him” of his previous teachings and rulings[5]. Rabbi Joseph knew from experience exactly what he was capable of and what he had the ability to become. He could justly possess humility. Rabbi Avdimi learned from his father that humility must spring from satisfaction. Holidays are opportunities to come a bit closer to G-d for a few days. Holidays leave a person feeling spiritually satiated. Rabbi Joseph reminds us that after we wave a beautiful etrog, eat hand-made sh’mura matzo, or stay up all night learning on Shavuot, we must remind ourselves that we have only begun to scratch the surface. We must vow to leverage our closeness to G-d to come even closer the next time around.

This insight offers another reason why the prohibition of gleaning is mentioned immediately after Shavuot. Shavuot marks the beginning of the yearly obligation to bring one’s first fruits – his “Bikkurim” – to the Beit haMikdash. Bikkurim[6] was performed with great fanfare with a procession of Jews marching up to Jerusalem with their first fruits placed in gold, silver or willow baskets to which live doves were tied. It was a time of great happiness and pride. All of a person’s hard work had literally come to fruition. Bikkurim was imbued with a great sense of self-satisfaction. The inclusion of the prohibition of gleaning immediately after Shavuot reminds us that while we are permitted, nay, encouraged, to be satisfied with the fruits of our labour, we must remember that our past achievements are indicative of our future potential.

Shabbat Shalom,

Ari Sacher, Moreshet, 5779

Please daven for a Refu’a Shelema for Yechiel ben Shprintza and Tzvi ben Shoshana.

[1] The Jewish year begins with the month of Nissan, so Passover is the first holiday. As a side point, the Torah actually begins its discussion of the annual holiday cycle with a short description of Shabbat.

[2] We have just made this lesson relevant for the folks in the Diaspora who are one parasha behind Israel.

[3] See the commentary of Don Isaac Abarbanel ad loc for a much more straightforward explanation.

[4] Beha’alotecha 5762

[5] See, for example, the Talmud in Tractate Pesachim [14b].

[6] This week is Yom HaAtzma’ut, Israeli Independence Day, a day deeply connected with Bikkurim. According to Rabbi Elchanan Samet, “The unique reason for the mitzvah of bringing Bikkurim is to serve as an opportunity for every owner of land in Israel to thank G-d for the gift of the land – that historical phenomenon which took place in the past and which continues and is relived until the present moment when the Israelite farmer stands in the Temple, his basket of Bikkurim in his arms.”

About the Author
Ari Sacher is a Rocket Scientist, and has worked in the design and development of missiles for over twenty years. He has briefed hundreds of US Congressmen on Israeli Missile Defense, including two briefings on Capitol Hill at the invitation of House Majority Leader. He speaks regularly for the Israeli Foreign Ministry. Ari is a highly requested speaker at AIPAC events, enabling even the layman to understand the "rocket science", and his speaking events are regularly sold-out. Ari has also been a scholar in residence in numerous synagogues in the USA and Canada. He is a riveting speaker, using his experience in the defense industry to explain the Torah in a way that is simultaneously enlightening and entertaining. Ari came on aliya from the USA in 1982. He studied at Yeshivat Kerem B’Yavneh, and then spent seven years studying at the Technion. Since 2001 he has published a weekly parasha shiur that is read around the world. Ari lives in Moreshet in the Western Galil along with his wife and eight children.
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