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A Needy Situation

By: Mrs Leora Bednarsh

In this week's parsha, right in the middle of the list of the holidays, between Sefirat HaOmer and Shavuot on the one hand, and Rosh HaShanah on the other, the Torah brings the mitzvot of Leket and Pe’ah, two of the agricultural gifts to the poor. Why are these mitzvot, which were already taught in last week’s parsha, repeated here, seemingly interrupting the list of the holidays?

Nechama Leibowitz quotes several commentaries who answer by connecting the observance of the holidays with the risk of forgetting the needy. This risk could stem from the feeling of pride and moral gratification that one feels when punctiliously performing religious rites. One can say, “I am such a good and selfless person”, and feel satisfied with oneself, and forget that there are other mitzvot that constantly need to be fulfilled. Rav Kook in a discussion on the risks involved with vegetarianism expresses a similar concern. He says that when people satisfy their natural moral urge by caring for the rights of animals, it could diminish their drive to care for the concerns of people (a prescient insight which was proven correct by the specter of Germans watching deportations of their Jewish neighbors and then going into the abandoned Jewish homes to save their pets.)

The Meshech Chochmah raises an additional moral lesson to be learned from the juxtaposition of these gifts to the needy and the holiday of Shavuot, Zman Matan Torateinu, specifically. The Pasuk we are speaking of closes “because I am the Lord your God”. The mitzvah of charity is one that makes sense, which we think humanity would think to do even without the divine command. But perhaps this is not the case. Perhaps even the most civilized societies can convince themselves based on intellect alone that there is no need to care for the needy, and that it is even justified to take advantage of and oppress the needy. The only sure way to ensure that society cares for the needy is the recognition that we are all G-d’s creatures, that everything we have is from G-d, and that just as He cares for the needy, so should we.

During this time of Sefirat Ha’Omer, leading to Matan Torah, may we all reinforce our commitment to G-d and to caring for each other.

Shabbat Shalom




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