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What is ours?
Posted by Kevin Salwen on 05.04.2011Share

I went to a Bar Mitzvah this past weekend and not 45 minutes into the service had one of the "jolt" moments that made my head hurt just a bit.

The Torah portion that the Bar Mitzvah boy Jacob read was from Leviticus. It included this line:

“And when you reap the harvest of your land, you shall not reap your field right up to its edge, nor shall you gather the gleanings after your harvest. You shall leave them for the poor and for the sojourner: I am Adonai.”

The line, which I had read before, wasn't particularly jarring. Sure, it made me think a bit about our role in the world, we who have the ability and responsibility to share. But the Bible is full of "take care of others" passages.

But what really forced me to think harder was the interpretation and commentary at the bottom of the page, in which one of the rabbis discussing the passage asked a question that went like this: "Doesn't this section from Leviticus mean that we are stealing from others when we harvest to the edge of our lands? In other words, when we consume all that we can, aren't we stealing?"

Wow. That made me pause. When we consume all we can, are we stealing from others? If so, what is the right amount to leave aside?

I'd love your thinking on this.

Torah permits hungry travelers to nibble on crops, but not to carry stuff away in containers. Gleaning is a core element of Biblical charity, as it permits the poor person to act responsibly. Sometimes, like Ruth, the poor person's character shines so brightly that his / her status is remarkably changed. One African-American woman, who became undersecretary of health and human services, mentioned a modern-day equivalent. Her brothers caddied for wealthy Jewish businessmen -- who took note of their character, and opened doors for them later. Menial jobs are not dead-end jobs, and blessings rest upon the houses of those who provide opportunities for the poor. I pray that more of us might emulate Boaz.
Posted by tom at 5:54pm on 12.13.2011

Kevin, Don't you love it when God smacks you with an "Aha!"? I think you are definitely right on target with this one. I had personally never made the direct connection between letting the poor glean the fields and not consuming all I can, but I think that connection is principally sound. Go with it! It also clearly reminds us that we are 'stewards' not 'owners' of all that we have under our 'control'.
Posted by dorothy at 2:02pm on 05.04.2011