The Blessing of Leftovers
"When you reap the harvest of your land, do not reap to the very edges of your field or gather the gleanings of your harvest. Leave them for the poor and the alien. I am the LORD your God" (Vayikra / Leviticus 23:22).
Some of the regulations found in this week's Torah portion take place at this time in the Jewish year. From just after Pesach (English: Passover) the people were to count the days up until the next major festival, which was Shavuot (English: Weeks, also known as Pentecost). Moses explains the various rules governing these days, mainly in terms of the special sacrifices to be offered. The instructions concerning Shavuot close with these words:
Interestingly these words were just recently spoken a few chapters before in the midst of some general instructions (see vv. 19:9,10). Since they didn't have the abundance of writing materials that we have today, we should take special notice when something is repeated and especially so close together.
This second time is in relation to a festival. During festive occasions people often make exceptions to normal rules. But God was making it clear that the people needed to do this no matter what.
When the people harvested their crops, they were not to take it all for themselves, but they were to leave some for the poor and the aliens living among them.
The people needed to learn that just because it was their harvest that they had worked so hard for, it was not fully theirs to do with as they pleased. It was God's right to dictate what was theirs and what was not. The opportunity to take all did not imply that they had a right to it.
The obligation to leave some over for others emphasized the people's responsibility to care for the wider community. We dont exist just to look after ourselves.
Notice that the leaving of some of the harvest was not dependant on how much they took in. They were to leave some no matter what. Our need to share with others is relative to how much we receive, not how much we think we need to keep. This pushed the people to be dependant upon God for their own provision.
Finally, because of the two contexts in which these words were spoken, we see that these instructions were to be followed in all occasions no matter what and with no exceptions.
We too would do well to leave over some of what we produce to benefit the needy in our communities. With most of us not living in an agricultural society like ancient Israel, this may call for some creative ideas, but what a blessing it would be if we did.
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