By Rabbi Moshe Bloom
Torah VeHa’aretz Institute
“And when you reap the harvest of your land, you shall not reap all the way to the edges of your field, or gather the gleanings of your harvest; you shall leave them for the poor and the stranger: I, the L-rd, am your G-d” (Vayikra 23:22).
Why did the text place [the matanot ani’im] in the middle of the festivals? This is to teach us that whoever takes out [of his produce] leket, shichecha, pe’ah, and ma’aser ani it is considered as if the Holy Temple is standing and he is bringing sacrifices there. And whoever does not take these out, it is as if the Holy Temple exists and he does not offer sacrifices there” (Sifra).
What’s the connection between land-dependent mitzvot and festivals?
Chapter 23 of Vayikra is undeniably associated with the Orach Chaim section of Shulchan Aruch, since it discusses the festivals. As such, the verse discussing the matanot ani’im, the gifts to the poor to be separated from one’s agricultural produce — which are Land-related mitzvot — seems to be completely unrelated. Our Sages relate the textual peculiarity in the quote above; this verse is there to teach us that whoever gives the matanot ani’im essentially performs an action that has the same importance as the rest of the verses in the chapter, dedicated to the special sacrifices brought for each holiday.
The Beit HaMikdash is the resting place of the Shechinah, the Divine Presence. It is the embodiment of the earthly abode that G-d desires in this lower world. Besides this resting of the Shechinah, where G-d comes down to meet us, so to speak, there is also an opposite and parallel process where we elevate ourselves to meet Him. This elevation is obviously not with our physical bodies, but rather accomplished through bringing sacrifices. Through offering sacrifices, it is as if we are giving a part of ourselves to G-d, which is considered as if we are offering ourselves to Him.
The blessing that G-d bestows on the field of a Jew living in the Land of Israel is an expression of the resting of the Shechinah. The Sages also regard it as the conspicuous sign that the Shechinah has returned to the Jewish People in its land. “Rabbi Abba also said (Sanhedrin 98a): You have no more manifest [sign of] the redemption than this, as it is stated: ‘But you, mountains of Israel, you shall give your branches, and yield your fruit to My people of Israel, [for they will soon be coming]’” (Yechezkel 36:8).
This is how G-d descends to us. Yet we also can raise ourselves by working with Him, and giving of ourselves for His sake. While this can be accomplished through our physical bodies, we should also elevate ourselves through our money. This can be done by sharing our G-d-given blessings with the poor, in accordance with His commands. It is no wonder that this process is equated with bringing sacrifices. If, however, one neglects to give the compulsory gifts to the poor from his G-d-given abundance, it demonstrates his unwillingness to do his part in his relationship with G-d: he is essentially sufficing with G-d’s coming down to him, as it were, but isn’t willing to elevate himself to G-d. For this reason, he is likened to someone living in Temple times who refuses to bring sacrifices.
Matanot Ani’im Today
Our parashah mentions two of the matanot ani’im. Rambam (Matanot Ani’im 1:7) writes: “We can learn that there are four gifts to the poor from the vineyard: peret, olelot, pe’ah, and shichecha; and three gifts from grain: leket, shichecha, and pe’ah; and two from trees: shichecha and pe’ah.” If we add to this the ma’aser ani, the poor man’s tithe, given on years three and six of the Shemittah cycle instead of ma’aser sheni (as part of the process of separating terumot and ma’aserot), then we have the entire list of matanot ani’im (a total of 10 gifts, 10 separate mitzvot out of the 613).
If you haven’t heard of farmers leaving a corner of their fields, or of poor people coming to a vineyard to pick the olelot — single grapes that fell off the clusters — you’d be in good company. While some poskim hold that the obligation of giving these gifts is Biblical and applies even today in the land of Israel, it is not the general practice to leave matanot ani’im in the field or vineyard.
Today’s poor are not interested in gathering several sheaves or fruits; it is much more worthwhile for them to collect money. In light of this, the Tur and the Shulchan Aruch (Y.D. 332) rule that there is no obligation to leave these gifts (while there are other opinions, this is the opinion we follow). Nevertheless, in a responsum by Rabbi Ehud Achituv in Emunat Itecha, issue 100, he concludes that if one knows with certainty that poor people will come to gather this produce, either on their own, or with the field owner’s help, the obligation to leave these gifts in the field in the Land of Israel still stands.
The mitzvah of leaving the matanot ani’im is unlike many other mitzvot which involve actually giving produce or money. In the case of matanot ani’im, if the intended beneficiary is not interested in receiving the gift, there is no need to give it (at least according to the accepted ruling today); there is no significance in the act of leaving the gifts in the field in and of itself.
Rabbi Moshe Bloom is head of the English department of Torah VeHa’aretz Institute. Torah VeHa’aretz Institute (the Institute for Torah and the Land of Israel) engages in research, public education, and the application of contemporary halachic issues that come to the fore in the bond between Torah and the Land of Israel today. For additional information and inquiries, email firstname.lastname@example.org or call 972-8-684-7325.