And From Your Hand Have They Given To You.
Emor (Leviticus 21-24 )
Towards the end of the parsha, we find a very interesting organization of mitzvos. Right in the middle of the description of the various Yamim Tovim and their respective sacrifices, we find the mitzvah of leaving over portions of the crop for the poor to take.(1)
Rashi explains that this is to teach us that one who gives these gifts to the poor in the proper way is credited as if he built the Beis Hamikdash and brought the appropriate sacrifices therein.
Besides being an amazingly inspiring statement which gives us a sense of the great good that one can achieve through proper help to the poor, this statement also begs explanation. Why is it that this mitzvah in particular is likened to building the Beis Hamikdash and bringing proper sacrifices? What does the linking of these two seemingly disparate topics reveal to us about the inner nature of the two?
The Torah here is discussing a particular mitzvah within the overall mitzvah of helping the poor: that of giving leket, shichicha, and peiah. Leket is the mitzvah of leaving fallen sheaves, shichicha is the mitzvah of leaving forgotten bundles, and peiah is the mitzvah of leaving a portion of the field of standing grain. Elsewhere in the Torah, we are taught about the specific mitzvah of giving tzedakah in various forms when requested to do so.
There is a fundamental difference between the former form of tzedakah and the latter in that the former is passive and the latter is active. Leket, shichicha, and peiah are all mitzvos of leaving something: leave it there so that the poor can come and take it. As a matter of fact, the specific Hebrew terminology that the Torah uses is taazov, which means to forsake. Rashi explains that this word indicates that the field-owner must not involve himself in the allocation whatsoever. He must completely remove himself from the picture, and leave it for the poor to take themselves.
It as if the Torah is saying that these portions of the crops do not belong to you: they are really not your property; you have no right to them - they belong to the poor! This is in contrast to the mitzvah of giving tzedakah directly in cash (or otherwise) where the situation is such that the donor can feel a sense of pride as the benevolent benefactor. In respect to the mitzvah of "giving" leket, shichicha, and peiah, though, it seems that the Torah is not giving an allowance for that dynamic.
Accordingly, this strongly indicates that the highest form of tzedakah is one in which the respective roles of giver vs. receiver are erased, and the giver is depicted more as a coincidental courier rather than the source of the beneficence.
This is very much in line with the precept that the highest form of tzedakah is helping another to maintain his source of livelihood.(2) Generally, we understand that this is so because it spares the recipient the embarrassment that comes from receiving nahamah d'kisufah, the bread of shame. Based on the above, though, yet another dimension to this halacha comes to light. Not only for the beneficiary is it a better form of tzedakah, but for the benefactor as well - because it does not really afford him that much cause to feel proud as the patron. When someone is really destitute and you give him a gift of tzedakah to help him out, you almost cannot help but feel proud of yourself as the one who "saved the day"; particularly if the amount is significant. But when a guy just needs a little help to stabilize his business you feel more like a friend helping a friend, not a like benefactor helping a poor, impoverished individual in need. In this vein, the mitzvos of leket, shichicha, and peiah are engineered in a way that the field-owner should realize that he is not really the source of the beneficence; rather he has just been chosen as the conduit through which that good is bestowed.
In short, a fundamental, underlying idea behind the mitzvos of leket, shichicha, and peiah is awareness that all of our wealth and prosperity is from the Creator; and, as such, the portions that the Creator has assigned to be for the poor should be viewed as just that - belonging to the poor and not to you.
Perhaps we can now venture to begin to understand the connection between these mitzvos, and building the Beis Hamikdash and bringing the appropriate sacrifices therein.
One of the major themes in bringing korbanos is this very idea: everything is from Hashem, and we must always recognize that fact and express our never-ending gratitude to Him for the bounty that He gives us. Throughout the laws of sacrifices, we find that one is supposed to bring the best of each type. Some sacrifices are specifically the first of the crop and the best thereof (i.e. bikurim), in order to express this fundamental awareness. Bringing sacrifices, then, in the Beis Hamikdash is a way by which we very concretely express our awareness of and our appreciation for the fact that the Creator is the source of all of our wealth and that we must use it properly to do His will.
When a person properly gives leket, shichicha, and peiah by effectively renouncing himself as the real owner and source of the beneficence, and thereby affirming that all is from Hashem and belongs to whomever He assigns it, he is expressing the same awareness that one achieves through bringing the sacrifices in the Beis Hamikdash.
Even though most people nowadays are not farmers, and the specific mitzvos of leket, shichicha, and peiah are not readily available for one to carry out, the underlying lesson of these mitzvos is nevertheless very pertinent and available to us all. When we give tzedakah, do we feel a sense of pride? Do we "toot our own horns" (even if only silently in the deep recesses of our private thoughts and feelings)? Or do we humbly acknowledge the graciousness of the Almighty for giving us the merit of being able to perform such good and worthy deeds?
Even today, these mitzvos encourage and prod us to take advantage of the opportunities that come our way that enable us to affirm within ourselves the awareness of Hashem as the true benefactor of us all; and to set our overarching life-goal that life itself should be a constant, ongoing expression of appreciation for all the good that Hashem gives us. And this we accomplish through fulfilling His mitzvos with humility and alacrity.
"For from You is all, and from Your hand have they given to You." (3)
1. Vayikra 23:22.
2. Rambam, Hilchos Matnos Aniyim 10:7.
3. Divrei Hayamim I 29:14.