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Parashat Acharei Mot-Kedoshim 5772 – 05/02/2012

Parshiot Acharei Mot-Kedoshim

Submitted by Robert Rabinoff

When you reap the harvest of your land do not reap all the way to the corner of your field, and do not take the gleanings of your harvest. … for the poor and the stranger shall you leave them – I am Hashem your Gd (19:9-10)

Among the roots of the commandment are that HASHEM, Blessed is He, wanted His chosen people to be crowned with every good and precious trait, and for them to have a blessed heart and a generous spirit. I have already written that as a result of deeds, the soul becomes conditioned and becomes good, and the blessing of Gd will rest upon it. There is no doubt that by leaving a portion of his produce in the field and relinquishing his ownership so that the needy can enjoy it, one’s soul will realize an abundance of [Divine] favor and a proper and blessed spirit; Gd will satisfy him with good and his soul will dwell in goodness. But someone who gathers everything into his home and leaves nothing for the poor who saw his field with its standing grain, and lusted after it to still their hunger – such a person will surely train himself to be mean hearted and mean spirited, and evil will befall him, as the Sages taught (Sotah 1:7): According to the standard by which one behaves, so he is treated (Sefer haChinuch).

The earth is the Lord’s and the fullness thereof, the world and they that dwell therein. (Psalms 24:1)

Our two Parshiot are dedicated to the attainment of holiness.  We therefore expect to find things like lists of sexual transgressions that take us in quite the opposite direction and are to be avoided like the plague.  We might also expect to find exhortations to engage in spiritual practices, such as prayer and meditation, but we do not find them here (and we find only hints of them elsewhere in Torah).  What we perhaps don’t expect to find are laws dealing with gifts to the poor, yet here they are.  What is the connection between holiness and charity (even Torah-mandated charity)?

Now if we are poor Gd forbid, we know the value of charity.  This is an absolute value, for it preserves the lives of those who are in need, and if done properly, their dignity as well.  Thus we are enjoined to leave the corner of our field for the poor to harvest.  We may not do them a favor and harvest it for them.  Rather they are to be treated as the owner of that 1/60th of the field that we leave over.  Similarly we leave the gleanings for the poor to pick up; once we drop one or two stalks they leave our possession and become the possession of the poor.

We find similar rules surrounding the Shemittah (Sabbatical) year.  Every seven years we abandon our fields, our vineyards and our orchards, doing no agricultural work and reaping only a single day’s supply of what grows by itself.  Everything else is given over to the public to eat.  No gate is supposed to be locked before the poor, no door shut in the face of the needy.  Thus everyone is equal before the Creator. (Iggeret haRamban).

Now there are a number of levels on which we can give tzedakah (charity, but the real meaning of the word tzedakah is righteousness, something that we are required to do to live up to Gd’s expectation of us, rather than caritas, affection – something we do out of the goodness of our hearts, but not strictly required, something extra, above and beyond the call of duty).  On one level, we take some of our resources and give them to others who are in need of physical sustenance.  As the quote from Sefer haChinuch indicates, this does wonders for our character, changing what is by nature a clinging, grasping, hoarding disposition into a open, generous, giving one.

On a deeper level, we see that Torah demands of us not that we give of what is ours to someone else, but rather that we relinquish the notion that that object is ours to begin with.  Thus we don’t give the poor part of our crop – we relinquish it entirely and let the poor claim it as their right.  From the point of view of the poor, they are raised from simple schnorrers to partners and owners.  More important, from the point of view of the giver, he begins to recognize that his attachment to the material is something that is holding back his evolution and expansion.  By releasing his hold on the material world, he releases the material world’s hold on him.  Instead of defining himself by what he has, he begins to define himself by what he is.

The ultimate value of tzedakah comes when we evaluate everything in the world justly, that is, just as it is.  The Ramban’s quote above can be translated Thus everything is the same before the Creator.  The proper evaluation of everything is that it belongs to Gd.  Gd created it, Gd maintains it, Gd supervises its behavior, Gd makes it grow and evolve, Gd harmonizes everything in creation with everything else in creation.  In fact, everything in creation is nothing more than a “piece” of Gd’s substance, in the same way that every wave is a “piece” of the ocean.  When we allow our minds to expand fully, so that we identify with the infinite basis of all existence, then we become able to evaluate everything in terms of the infinite basis of its existence.  As the Psalmist sings, The earth is the Lord’s and the fullness thereof.

Thus we see that the ultimate value of tzedakah leads us to holiness.  Holiness, kedushah, comes from a root that means separate.  As long as we are bound to the physical, we are not separate from it.  Once we rise to the level of infinity in our mind and our perceptions, we are naturally separate from the finite, yet, through the medium of our bodies and senses, able to act within the realm of the finite.  In this state we fulfill the verse: Be holy!  For I, Hashem, your Gd am holy.


Pirke Avot, Chapter 3

Mishnah 8

This was so à propos I decided to repeat it from Devarim 5770:

R. Elazar of Bartosa says: Give Him what is His, for you and all that which is yours are His.

A wise man once said, “Everything we get, we get to give away.”  On one level we must acknowledge that Gd is the Creator of the universe and as such everything that is in the universe belongs to Him.  Whatever we have we have permission to use only for permitted purposes, to further the ultimate purpose of creation.  On another level perhaps we can say that R. Elazar is asking us to acknowledge that ultimately, the only reality is Gd.  We ourselves have no existence independent of Gd, nor does anything else.  Giving Him what is His then would mean acknowledging that our possessions, our bodies, our minds and our souls are all part of Gd, and that our relationship with Gd is really Gd’s relationship with Himself.  When we give ourselves to Gd we come full circle, returning to the source of our existence and becoming One with it.