“Making Sacrifices” Parashat Emor 5777

Parashat Emor contains the most comprehensive review of the Jewish Holidays in the Torah. Each and every holiday is described in detail along with their particular mitzvot. It is strange, therefore, that a seemingly extraneous mitzvah is sandwiched right in the middle of the review, between Shavuot and Rosh Hashanah [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 up the gleanings of your harvest. [Rather,] you shall leave these for the poor person and for the stranger”. These laws are referred to as Leket – gathering, Shikcha – forgotten [wheat][1], and Pe’ah – corner. We’ll call them LS&P. Not only are the laws of LS&P out of place here but the Torah already introduced them last week in Parashat Kedoshim [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 not glean your vineyard nor shall you collect the [fallen] individual grapes of your vineyard; you shall leave them for the poor and the stranger”. What is so vital about LS&P that the Torah “interrupts its regularly scheduled program” in order to bring us a rerun?

If we open the aperture slightly it turns out that LS&P is not entirely out of place. The discussion of LS&P is preceded by the holiday of Shavuot, which is, in turn, preceded by the mitzvah of the omer, an offering of the first barley of the year that was harvested on the second day of Pesach. Both LS&P and the omer are agricultural mitzvot. Some of the commentators make this connection. For instance, the Ohr HaChayim HaKadosh suggested that the Torah is warning us that we must give all of the required gifts to the poor, even from the field from which the omer sacrifice is harvested[2]. The flaw with these explanations is that the Torah waits until after introducing the holiday of Shavuot before “reminding us” of the requirement to offer LS&P. One would have expected the laws of LS&P to come immediately after the mitzvah of the omer.

Rashi provides an explanation that addresses this problem but that opens a whole new Pandora’s Box: “[But Scripture has already stated this, “When you…reap its harvest”]… Rabbi Avdimi the son of Rabbi Joseph says: Why does Scripture place this [passage] in the very middle of [the laws regarding] the holidays, with Passover and Shavuot on one side and Rosh Hashanah, Yom Kippur, and Sukkot on the other? To teach you that whoever gives LS&P to the poor in the appropriate manner is deemed as if he had built the Beit HaMikdash and offered up his sacrifices within it.” Excuse me? What does LS&P have to do with sacrifices and why mention it specifically in the middle of the holidays?

In cases like these, when we are completely bamboozled, it is always a good idea to return to the words of the Torah. So I did and I noticed something: When the Torah introduces the omer offering it commands “When you come to the land which I am giving you and you reap [the land’s] harvest (ketzirah), you shall bring to the Kohen an omer of the beginning of your reaping (ketzirchem).” Whose harvest is it – the land’s harvest or your harvest? One of the thirteen rules by which the Torah is interpreted is that when two sources contradict each other, the tie must be broken by a third source. In our case, a third source can be found right down the street. When the Torah talks about LS&P a few verses later, it starts by saying “When you reap the harvest of your land (ketzir artzechem)…” It seems to be that the “owner” of the harvest is the land. The question we must now answer is “So what?”

A way ahead can be found in two conflicting verses regarding holidays. In one verse we are told [Devarim 16:8] “It is a holiday for Hashem” and another verse [Bemidbar 29:35] tells us “It is a holiday for you”. These verses are the source of a disagreement in the Talmud in Tractate Beitzah [15b]. Rabbi Eliezer says that a holiday can be spent in one of two ways. The first way is called “Kulo lachem” – “All yours”. A holiday should be spent eating, drinking, sleeping, and generally engaging in physical pleasure. The other way to spend a holiday is “Kulo l’Hashem” – “All Hashem’s”. It should spent learning, davening, and engaging in other spiritual acts. But you can’t do both. A holiday is either all yours or all His. The choice is yours. Rabbi Yehoshua disagrees. If you follow Rabbi Eliezer’s ruling, either way you’re going to lose. Rather, you should divide the day into two – “Chetzyo lachem v’chetzyo l’Hashem”. Half of the day for yourself and half of the day for Hashem. Half of the day should be dedicated to spiritual matters and the other half to physical gratification. In that way, both of the verses are satisfied: It is a holiday for Hashem but it is also a holiday for you. The normative Halacha is like Rabbi Yehoshua. The fact that LS&P is situated precisely at the half-way point in the discussion of the holidays is perhaps alluding to this dual nature of a holiday. Just as the harvest has dual ownership – Hashem and the landowner – so do the holidays. The abundance of a person’s harvest is a function of two parameters: [1] the amount of work he is willing and able to put into the land and [2] the amount produce that the land – Hashem – is willing to give. Similarly, what we take out of a holiday is a function of two parameters: our physical and metaphysical enjoyment.

The connection of LS&P with sacrifices is more clear. The Torah in Parashat Emor summarizes the laws of the holidays with the following words [Vayikra 23:37]: “These are Hashem’s appointed holidays that you shall designate them as holy occasions, [on which] to offer up a fire offering to Hashem burnt offering and meal offering, sacrifice and libations, the requirement of each day on its day.” A holiday is characterized as a day in which additional sacrifices are brought in the Beit HaMikdash. It follows that LS&P is mentioned in the discussion of the holidays in order connect it to sacrifices.

Now we are armed with sufficient background data to adequately understand Rashi’s explanation. What is a “holiday”? How was the first day of Pesach this year different from any other Monday? Was it because we were blessed with a long weekend[3]? Of course not. Was it because we had an amazing Seder, we ate brisket and drank some really good wine? Of course our digestive system had a hard time getting its head around the matzo, but that seems a small price to pay for some really great food. But wait a minute – look back one paragraph: A holiday is characterized as a day in which additional sacrifices are brought in the Beit HaMikdash. While we are commanded to indulge our body as well as our spirit, the essence of a holiday flows from an act that sublimates the physical – a cow, a sheep, or a goat – into the metaphysical – a “pleasing fragrance to Hashem”. We rejoice in body because and only because Hashem has commanded us to rejoice in spirit.

Now here is the clincher: We often tend to look at LS&P, tithes and the like, as “payment” – baksheesh, if you will – for our harvest. We take our fruit and give over ten percent to the tax-man, in this case a poor person. What Rashi is telling us is that the relationship between LS&P and our land is exactly the same as the relationship between sacrifices and holidays: The “owner” of the harvest is the land. It is not our land, it is Hashem’s land. While we are commanded to indulge our body as well as our spirit, the essence of our  labour flows from an act that sublimates the physical – an apple, a pear, or a loquat – into the metaphysical – sustenance for the destitute. LS&P is not an effect, it is a cause. We enjoy the fruit of our harvest because and only because Hashem has commanded us to include the less fortunate in our fortune.

Shabbat Shalom,

Ari Sacher, Moreshet, 5777

Please daven for a Refu’a Shelema for Moshe Dov ben Malka and Yechiel ben Shprintza.

[1] Shikcha is not explicitly mentioned in Parashat Emor or in Parashat Kedoshim but it is usually lumped together with Leket and Pe’ah. See the Ohr HaChayim HaKadosh ad loc.

[2] In many cases the sanctification of an object absolves it from other legal obligations. For instance, an animal that has been sanctified is not liable for any damage that it incurs.

[3] The Sadducees tried to prove that Shavuot always fell on Sunday because Hashem was nice enough to give us a yearly long weekend, see the Talmud in Tractate Menachot [65a].

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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