Gleanings from Emor

While preparing a few Thoughts on this week’s parashah, Emor, Leviticus 21:1 – 24:23, two items seemed to take root while meandering through various sources. The first item was a poem entitled Let Me Give from an anonymous collection of sermon illustrations.

I don’t know how long I have to live
But while I do, Lord, let me give
Some comfort to someone in need
By smile or nod-kind word or deed.
And let me do what e’er I can
To ease things for my fellowman.
I only want to do my part,
To “lift” a tired and weary heart.
To change folks’ frowns to smiles again
So, I will not have lived in vain.
I do not care how long I live
If I can give-and-give-and-give!”

The other is from Mishnah Pe’ah 1:1 that is recited during the preparatory prayers and readings before the Daily Shacharit service,

“These are the things for which there is no fixed measure: the corner of the field, first fruits, appearances before the Lord [on festivals, with offerings], acts of kindness (gemilut hasadim) and Torah study.”

The Koren Siddur, Nusah Ashkenaz, Koren Publishers, Jerusalem, 2009, p 10

For those not familiar with the phrase, gemilut hasadim or acts of kindness it is a fundamental social value in the everyday lives of Jews. It is a mitzvah that an individual performs without the anticipation of receiving something in return. There is no fixed measure of gemilut hasadim, which is one reason why the sages articulated the importance of doing it all the time. Some examples of gemilut hasadim include clothing the naked, feeding the hungry, burying the dead, and visiting the sick. (Gleaned from https://www.jewishvirtuallibrary.org/gemilut-hasadim)

So, what do an anonymous poem and the Mishnah passage have to do with this week’s parashah? The answer is found in this verse,

When you reap the harvest of your land, moreover, you shall not reap to the very corners of your field nor gather the gleaning of your harvest; you are to leave them for the needy (poor or afflicted) and the alien (ger, newcomer i.e. someone with no inherited rights or a temporary resident). I am the LORD your God.’” (Leviticus 23:22)

It is often said that when something is repeated multiple times in Scripture, we should pay attention to it. With that in mind, remember this passage from last week’s parashah, Kedoshim, 

Now when you reap the harvest of your land, you shall not reap to the very corners of your field, nor shall you gather the gleanings of your harvest. Nor shall you glean your vineyard, nor shall you gather the fallen fruit of your vineyard; you shall leave them for the needy and for the stranger. I am the LORD your God. (Leviticus 19:9-10)

Then a third repetition of this command in Moses’ reiteration of the Torah as Bnei Israel was preparing to enter the land of Canaan,

When you reap your harvest in your field and have forgotten a sheaf in the field, you shall not go back to get it; it shall be for the alien, for the orphan, and for the widow, in order that the LORD your God may bless you in all the work of your hands. When you beat your olive tree, you shall not go over the boughs again; it shall be for the alien, for the orphan, and for the widow. When you gather the grapes of your vineyard, you shall not go over it again; it shall be for the alien, for the orphan, and for the widow. (Deuteronomy 24:19-21)

Although most of us no longer live in an agricultural society or setting, the practical application of these three passages should ensure that the neediest individuals among us would always have food, shelter, and a community where they would be treated with honor and dignity. Equally, in today’s current economic situation, some might say, “I have barely enough to meet my own needs, how can I possibly consider helping others?” I believe one answer to this quandary is found in these words from the psalmist,

How blessed is he who considers the helpless (the poor); the LORD will deliver him in a day of trouble. The LORD will protect him and keep him alive, and he shall be called blessed upon the earth; and do not give him over to the desire of his enemies. The LORD will sustain him upon his sickbed; in his illness, You restore him to health. (Psalm 41:1-3)

The psalmist does not say “how blessed is he who gives to the helpless” rather “how blessed is he who considers to the helpless.” The one who keeps the plight of the needy in the forefront of their heart and mind, find themselves receiving comfort and protection from HaShem, as well I believe, finding ways to assist others, whether “by smile or nod-kind word or deed.”

The prophet Micah admonishes us all when he wrote,

He has told you, O man, what is good; and what does the LORD require of you but to do justice, to love kindness, and to walk humbly with your God? (Micah 6:8)

Doing justice and loving kindness are directed to our fellow humans, and interestingly mentioned before walking humbly with our God. Might Micah be inferring that if we are not doing the first two, we probably won’t be doing the last? Remember there is always something we can do, a cup of cold water, a visit to the sick or grieving, even an offering regardless of the size – the poor widow showed that it was the size of the heart not the amount of the coinage (see Luke 21:1-4). 

Finally, some might say, but there is so much to do, the need is too great. Consider these words from Rabbi Tarfon, 

He used to say: It is not your duty to finish the work, but neither are you at liberty to neglect it;  

https://www.sefaria.org.il/Pirkei_Avot.2.16

Consider Yeshua’s teaching on end time judgment, (Matthew 25:31-46). It appears that the difference between those who heard “come you who are blessed” and “depart from me, accursed ones” had everything to do with gemilut hasadim; visiting the sick or imprisoned, clothing the naked, welcoming the stranger, providing for those in need. This was not a matter of righteous merited by ones works, rather it was expressing a reality that James would later proclaim, that true faith will produce works, acts of loving kindness. 

Even so faith, if it has no works, is dead, being by itself. But someone may well say, “You have faith and I have works; show me your faith without the works, and I will show you my faith by my works.” (James 2:17-18)

This week’s Thoughts are not meant to pressure anyone into doing acts of kindness, rather they are simply to remind each of us that we have a responsibility to care for and to assist one another as we are able to do so and as we are led by the Ruach. Remember the passage from Micah, it’s after we do justice and acts of loving kindness that we can then “walk humbly with our God.”

Shabbat shalom u’mevorach!

* Scripture references are from New American Standard Bible, Copyright ©1995 by The Lockman Foundation

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