Parshat Kedoshim 2

“And when you reap the harvest of your land do not completely harvest the ends of your field. And do not collect the individual stalks that have fallen. And do not completely pick the grapes of your vineyard. They must be left to the poor person and the convert. I am Hashem your G-d.” (VaYikra 19:9-10)

According to Maimonides, the two passages above are the source for six commandments. First, the passages are the source for the positive and negative commandments regarding Pe’ah. When we harvest a field we are not permitted to completely harvest the grain of the field. Instead, we are required to leave a portion for the needy. The requirement to leave this portion – the Pe’ah – is a positive command.[1] The prohibition against completely harvesting the field – and not leaving Pe’ah is a negative command.[2] Second, we are commanded leave Leket. When the grain is reaped, some stalks naturally fall to the ground. We are required to leave these individual stalks for the needy. The requirement to leave these stalks – the Leket – is a positive commandment.[3] The prohibition against collecting the Leket is a negative commandment.[4] Third, when we collect the grapes of a vineyard, we are required to leave a portion for the needy. The requirement to leave this portion is a positive commandment.[5] The prohibition against completely collecting the grapes of the vineyard is a negative commandment.[6] In other words, the passages outline three requirements. We are required to leave standing a portion of the grain in the field. We must leave any individual stalks that fall to the ground. We must leave a portion of the grapes on the vines. Each of the requirements is expressed as a positive commandment and a negative commandment. This results in a total of six commandments.

Sefer HaChinuch explains that these mitzvot apply in the land of Israel on a Torah level. The Sages extended these commandments to apply outside of Israel.[7]

The mishne explains that the Torah did not establish a standard for the mitzvah of Pe’ah. We are not required to leave a specific amount of grain standing or a set percentage of the field’s produce for the needy. Instead, on the Torah level, the requirement of Pe’ah can be fulfilled by leaving any small amount of grain.[8] However, the mishne adds that the Sages did establish a set requirement. One 60th of the field’s grain must be left standing. The mishne continues to explain that this standard of one 60th is a minimum. Under some circumstances a larger percentage must be left. Two of the factors that affect the required percentage are the number of poor people requiring support and the size of the field.[9]

The first factor is readily understood. The requirement to leave a minimum of one sixtieth of the gain for the poor assumes that this amount will provide a meaningful resource for the poor people of the area. However, if there are an unusually large number of poor people in the area, then one 60th of the field’s grain will not provide these poor people with a meaningful level of assistance. Under such circumstances, we are required to leave more than the minimum one 60th of the grain for the poor.[10]

However, the second circumstance noted by the mishne is not completely clear. The mishne explains that the amount of grain in the field is also affected by the size of the field. According to Maimonides, the mishne is referring to a small field. In a small field, it is not adequate to leave one 60th of the grain for the needy: some amount more than one 60th must be left standing. Rabbaynu Ovadia Bertinoro argues that the mishne means that in a large field more than one 60th must be left standing.[11] It is true that the wording of the mishne is ambiguous. But it is strange that these two authorities came to exactly opposite conclusions regarding the mishne’s meaning. What is the basis for this dispute?

In order to understand this unusual dispute, it is important to begin with a more fundamental issue. As explained above, on a Torah level there is no established minimum for Pe’ah. A person can discharge this obligation by leaving a single stalk standing. This seems strange. Maimonides includes his discussion of Pe’ah in the section of his code – the Mishne Torah – that deals with charity for the poor. Most forms of charity have more clear and substantial standards. For example, we are required on selected years to give a tithe to the poor from the harvest. The amount of this tithe is one tenth of the harvest.[12] The mitzvah of charity also has a standard. We are required to provide the poor with meaningful support.[13] It is odd that the mitzvah of Pe’ah lacks any similar standard on the Torah level. No specific percentage is required and the amount of grain need not provide meaningful support.

This question can be answered on two levels. First, the question can be addressed on a strictly halachic level. An analysis of the passages above provides an important insight into the formulation of the requirement of Pe’ah. The passages begin with a statement of the negative commandment regarding Pe’ah. The Torah tells us, “And when you reap the harvest of your land do not completely harvest the ends of your field.” The Torah commands us to not completely harvest the grain of the field. This requirement is met by leaving any portion of the grain standing. The positive commandment to leave Pe’ah is based on and reflects the structure of this negative commandment. Just as the negative commandment merely requires that we do not completely harvest the grain, so too, the positive commandment requires that we leave some portion of the grain standing. However, on a deeper level it is appropriate to consider the objective of this formulation.

As mentioned above, Maimonides treats the mitzvah of Pe’ah as one of the mitzvot requiring that we support the needy. Why are we required to care for those who are less fortunate? We generally assume that this requirement is based on an ethic of social justice. In other words, the Torah’s ethic of social justice demands that the more fortunate have compassion for and provide assistance to the less fortunate members of society. However, Sefer HaChinuch in his treatment of the mitzvah of Pe’ah does not describe the mitzvah’s objective as social justice. Instead, he stresses the impact of the mitzvah on the owner of the field. Apparently, according to Sefer HaChinuch, the fundamental purpose of the mitzvah – on a Torah level – is not to provide support for the poor. The fundamental objective of the mitzvah is expressed in its impact on the owner of the field. Apparently, the mitzvah is designed to discourage greed. The miserly person cannot imagine leaving any portion of the grain in his field standing. The Torah discourages this miserly attitude by requiring that the owner of the field train himself to not be greedy. Some portion must be left standing.

Sefer HaChinuch’s interpretation of the mitzvah of Pe’ah is reflected by another requirement outlined in these passages. The requirement of Leket is that we leave for the poor any individual stalks that fall to the ground during the harvest. Clearly, Leket is directed against greed. Leket instructs us to not be so greedy as to pick up every stray stalk that has slipped from our grasp.

Sefer HaChinuch adds that the mitzvah of Pe’ah helps a person achieve happiness. A person who is greedy is never satisfied with his portion. He never has enough. Because of his greed he is unsatisfied with his financial successes and is constantly driven to amass more wealth. But because of his basic disposition of greed, new additional wealth does not satisfy him and he remains as unsatisfied as he was before he added to his fortune.[14]

According to Sefer HaChinuch it makes perfect sense that the Torah did not establish a minimum standard for Pe’ah. A minimum standard would be misleading. It might mislead us to conclude that the mitzvah is designed primarily to aid the poor. However by omitting a minimum standard for Pe’ah, the Torah indicates that the purpose of the mitzvah is not only to assist the poor. The purpose is also to assist the owner of the field become a healthier and more fulfilled individual.

One can also conclude from the Torah’s formulation of the requirement of Pe’ah that poverty is not merely a result of the misfortune of the poor. It is also a result of the greed of the more fortunate. The Torah does not provide a standard for Pe’ah. Instead, it directs the field owner to not be greedy. The implication is that if we can overcome our greed, there will be adequate resources to care for ourselves and the less fortunate.

Based on this analysis, it is possible to explain the dispute between Maimonides and Rabbaynu Ovadia Bertinoro. Both agree that the Sages established one 60th as a minimum standard for Pe’ah and that if there are numerous poor people, then a greater portion of the grain must be left standing. They agree that this greater portion is required in order to provide the numerous poor people with a meaningful level of support. It is apparent that although the primary objective of the mitzvah of Pe’ah may be to counter greed, the Sages placed stress on the objective of supporting the poor.

According to Maimonides, this second objective – supporting the poor – is also reflected in the requirement to adjust the required Pe’ah in accordance with the size of the field. If the field is small and one 60th of its produce will not provide meaningful support, then a greater portion of the grain must be left standing. However, according to Rabbaynu Ovadia Bertinoro, the requirement to adjust the required Pe’ah for the size of the field reflects the primary objective of the mitzvah – to discourage greed. He maintains that if the field is large, then more than one 60th of the grain must be left standing. In other words, the Sages required that a minimum of one 60th of the grain must be left standing. A token amount is not adequate. The owner must leave a portion of the gain standing that will be significant to him. In a typical field, one 60th is a significant amount. The owner will be impacted. However in a large field, leaving one 60th of the grain may not have a significant impact on the owner. Therefore, in the larger field a greater portion must be left standing.

[1] Rabbaynu Moshe ben Maimon (Rambam / Maimonides) Sefer HaMitzvot, Mitzvat Aseh 120.

[2] Rabbaynu Moshe ben Maimon (Rambam / Maimonides) Sefer HaMitzvot, Mitzvat Lo Ta’aseh 210.

[3] Rabbaynu Moshe ben Maimon (Rambam / Maimonides) Sefer HaMitzvot, Mitzvat Aseh 121.

[4] Rabbaynu Moshe ben Maimon (Rambam / Maimonides) Sefer HaMitzvot, Mitzvat Lo Ta’aseh 211.

[5] Rabbaynu Moshe ben Maimon (Rambam / Maimonides) Sefer HaMitzvot, Mitzvat Aseh 123.

[6] Rabbaynu Moshe ben Maimon (Rambam / Maimonides) Sefer HaMitzvot, Mitzvat Lo Ta’aseh 212.

[7] Sefer HaChinuch, Mitzvah 216.

[8] Mesechet Pe’ah 1:1.

[9] Mesechet Pe’ah 1:2.

[10] Rabbaynu Moshe ben Maimon (Rambam / Maimonides) Mishne Torah, Hilchot Matnot Aniyim 1:15.

[11] Rabbaynu Ovadia Bertinoro, Commentary on the Mishne, Mesechet Pe’ah 1:2.

[12] Rabbaynu Moshe ben Maimon (Rambam / Maimonides) Mishne Torah, Hilchot Matnot Aniyim 6:1-4.

[13] Rabbaynu Moshe ben Maimon (Rambam / Maimonides) Mishne Torah, Hilchot Matnot Aniyim 7:1.

[14] Sefer HaChinuch, Mitzvah 216.