1. Support for the poor through their participation in the harvest
Among the many mitzvot described in Parshat Kedoshim are a number of commandments designed to assure that the poor and less fortunate are cared for at the time of harvest. All of these commandments operate in a similar manner. They restrict the manner in which a field or vineyard is harvested and assure that some portion of the crop is left behind for collection by the poor. The first of the two passages above delineates specific mitzvot that apply to a field of grain and the second passage describes the commandments that apply to a vineyard.
Two mitzvot are described in regards to a field of grain. The first is the commandment of Pe’ah. The mitzvah of Pe’ah requires that the corner of the field not be harvested. The grain is to be left standing for collection by the poor and needy. The second mitzvah is Leket. This mitzvah requires that the insignificant ears of grain that fall to the ground at the time of harvest not be subsequently collected. Instead, these ears of grain should be left in the field for the poor to collect.
Two mitzvot are described in regards to a vineyard. The first is Olelot. Loosely defined, this commandment requires that isolated grapes be left on the vine to be collected by the poor. The second commandment is Peret. This mitzvah requires that fallen grapes be left for the poor.
2. Pe’ah in a vineyard
A superficial reading of these two passages suggests that fields of grain and vineyards are governed by separate mitzvot. The passages seem to suggest that fields of grain are subject to Pe’ah and Leket, whereas vineyards are subject to Olelot and Peret. This is not correct. Pe’ah actually applies to virtually any crop that is harvested in bulk. This includes vineyards. Therefore, in addition to Olelot and Peret, a vineyard is also subject to Pe’ah.
3. Rashbam’s reinterpretation of Olelot
Rashbam makes a very strange comment on the second passage. He states that the first portion of the passage “implies a reference to Pe’ah.” He seems to suggest that this first portion of the passage is not legislating Olelot but is extending Pe’ah to the vineyard. In other words, he apparently maintains that there is no explicit source in the Torah for the mitzvah of Olelot. Instead, this reference to Olelot is actually a reference to Pe’ah and is intended to inform us that Pe’ah applies to the vineyard as well as to a field of grain.
Rashbam’s comments are remarkable on two counts. First, there is little doubt that he acknowledges the existence of the institution of Olelot as a Torah requirement. However, with his reinterpretation of the above passage there remains no other source in the Torah for this commandment. Second, Rashbam seems to be going to extreme lengths to create a problem. The literal translation of the above passage makes a clear reference to Olelot. Why does Rashbam reject the literal meaning of the passage and replace it with a more non-literal translation that completely contradicts the traditional understanding of the passage?
4. The parallel between field and vineyard
It seems that Rashbam is suggesting that a parallelism exits between the two passages – the first describing the field of grain and the second the vineyard. The field of grain is subject to Pe’ah and Leket. Therefore, the vineyard must be subject to two parallel institutions. The vineyard’s Peret mimics the field of grain’s requirement of Leket. Both institutions prohibit collecting the fallen insignificant objects of the harvest. In the field these are fallen ears of grain and in the vineyard these are fallen grapes. However, the field of grain is also subject to Pe’ah. What is the equivalent to Pe’ah in the vineyard? Rashbam is suggesting that the institution of Olelot is the equivalent. It is the vineyard version of Pe’ah. In other words, Rashbam is not suggesting that the passage omits reference to Olelot. He accepts the literal translation of the passage and acknowledges that is legislates Olelot. However, he is explaining that the parallelism of the passages implies that Olelot is a version of Pe’ah.
5. Pe’ah and Leket – paradigms for two types of giving
How is Olelot related to and similar to Pe’ah? The two institutions that apply to grain of the field are somewhat different from one another. The second – Leket – essentially prohibits being overly scrupulous in collecting the grain from the field. If a few ears of grain fall to the ground, they cannot be collected. In other words, Leket is designed to encourage a healthy attitude toward one’s harvest. A person should not feel compelled to collect every last ear of grain. This is a degree of care that borders on the obsessive. These few dispersed ears of grain are hardly worthy of the owner’s attention but they are a welcome boon for the poor person.
Pe’ah is a different type of institution. It requires that the field owner not completely harvest his field. A portion of the field must be left untouched. He must stop short the harvest process and share a small part of the field’s produce with the poor. The Torah does not establish a minimum size for this portion. However, the Sages require that – in general – 1/60 of the field be left not harvested. The requirement is not that the owner endures sacrifice or hardship on behalf of those less fortunate. The requirement is that owner leaves a portion – that is not of significance to him – to others who desperately need and will immensely benefit from his forbearance.
An illustration will help demonstrate this distinction. Many retail Jewish establishments have one or even many charity boxes – pushkes – next to the cash register. Many people place the loose change they receive when paying for a purchase in a pushke. These people are often performing the equivalent of Leket or Peret. They could put the change in their wallets. But they don’t really want to be bothered with the change. So, they put it in the charity box. It’s easier than placing the change in their wallet and, to the recipient, it is an appreciated gift.
Some people have made a charity a silent partner in a business endeavor. The charity receives a portion of the profits from the business. This is the equivalent of Pe’ah. The business owner is sharing part of the harvest – a portion of the profits.
6. The relationship between Olelot and Pe’ah
Rashbam is suggesting that Olelot is parallel to Pe’ah in its structure. The institution of Olelot requires that the owner of the vineyard leave an insignificant portion of the harvest on the vine. He is not permitted to completely harvest his field. Pe’ah and Olelot differ in only one respect. Pe’ah requires that a small discrete portion of the field be left not harvested. Olelot does not apply to a discrete portion of the vineyard. Throughout the vineyard the insignificant Olelot must be left on the vine. However, despite this difference, both Pe’ah and Olelot require the owner to not completely harvest his crop and leave a portion of his harvest untouched., Both require that the owner leave behind a portion of the harvest that is probably not significant to the owner but of great meaning to the poor. In the instance of Pe’ah, the portion is not significant because of its size relative to the overall field. In the instance of Olelot, the portion is not significant because of its nature; it is composed of isolated grapes on the vine.
7. Lessons from Pe’ah and Leket
Neither Pe’ah or Leket place an overwhelming burden upon the field’s owner. The same is true of Olelot and Peret. All of these institutions essentially are designed to benefit both the wealthy and the poor. The wealthy is trained through these mitzvot to not be obsessive about his wealth, and to not be miserly. The poor benefits because, although the gift received may not have been significant to the benefactor, it is very meaningful to the recipient. These mitzvot join the wealthy and the poor in a symbiotic relationship in which each helps the other.
These mitzvot do not represent the limit of our obligation to help those less fortunate. We are obligated by halachah and by the Torah’s morals and ethics to care for others. However, these more challenging obligations can only be met by a person who has learned the lessons communicated by Pe’ah and Leket. Before a person can show charity toward others he must develop a healthy attitude toward his blessing of personal wealth. He must learn to share resources that he sees as his hard earned wealth with those who are in need. When these lessons are learned a person can truly enjoy the wealth with which he is blessed. He can provide for himself and his family without fear of losing his wealth and he can use his wealth to help individuals and to support causes that are meaningful and will have impact.
1. This is a very simplified presentation of the contents of these two passages. Actually, each of the institutions outlined above is legislated by two commandments. For example, a positive commandment legislates that Pe’ah must be left for the poor and a negative command prohibits the owner of the field from harvesting Pe’ah. The same dual- commandment structure legislates each of the other three forms of support for the poor. This results in a total of eight commandments legislating four institutions.
2. It must be noted that there is some debate over the issue of whether Olelot is a Torah institution. Sefer HaChinuch does not include Olelot among the mitzvot of the Torah. His contention is that this is the position of Maimonides. This is certainly not the position taken by Maimonides in his code – Mishne Torah. Instead, Sefer HaChinuch’s assertion is based upon Maimonides wording in his Sefer HaMitzvot (Negative mitzvah 212). There is some question regarding whether the version of Maimonides’ Sefer HaMitzvot upon which Sefer HaChinuch relied was accurate. Even if it is assumed to have been accurate, the validity of his interpretation of Maimonides’ phrasing has also been contested.
3. A parallel passage is found in Sefer Devarim 24:21. Presumably, Rashbam also interprets this passage to refer to Pe’ah in a vineyard.
4. Compare to: Rabbaynu Shmuel ben Meir (Rashbam), Commentary on the Torah, Notes by M.Y. Lookshein, Sefer VaYikra 19:10, note 5.
5. It must be acknowledged that if this interpretation of Rashbam’s comment is correct, he could have more clearly stated his message as “an institution akin to Pe’ah is implied”.
6. In Maimonides’ Sefer HaMitzvot (Negative mitzvah 212) he states in reference to Olelot “We are prohibited from completely harvesting the vineyard at the time of harvest.” (Kafih translation). This phrasing parallels the Torah’s description of Pe’ah – to not completely harvest the field. Maimonides seems to suggest that Olelot and Pe’ah are parallel institutions. However, Maimonides’ Sefer HaMitzvot was composed in Arabic and a number of variant translations have been proposed for the original Arabic. It is not appropriate to validate the above interpretation of Rashbam’s comments based upon a contested translation of Sefer HaMitzvot. However, the similarity between this translation and the above interpretation is worthy of noting.
7. It should be noted that both Pe’ah and Olelot apply to the vineyard. Each is a different manner in which the owner refrains from completing the vineyard’s harvest and instead, leaves a portion for the less fortunate.