Whatever the view, always remember the less fortunate

This week’s Torah Portion, Emor, includes the command to observe God’s sacred occasions (Leviticus 23: 1-2): “The Eternal spoke to Moses saying: Speak to the Israelite people and say to them: These are My fixed times, the fixed times of the Eternal, which you shall proclaim as sacred occasions.” What follows is a listing of sacred occasions and how to observe them: Shabbat, Passover, Shavuot, Rosh Hashanah, Yom Kippur and Sukkot. The entire passage ends with the summary (Leviticus 23:37): “Those are the set times of the Eternal that you shall celebrate as sacred occasions…”
But there is an interesting insertion that comes between Shavuot and Rosh Hashanah that I wanted to focus on, Leviticus 23:22: “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 Eternal am your God.” It’s an odd statement to make not only because it interrupts the listing of sacred occasions, but also because it’s a repetition of Leviticus 19:9. It demands explanation.
Whenever the text demands explanation, I always go to Rashi first and he quotes R. Avdimi b. Joseph to explain: “Why does the text teach this in between the festivals, with Passover and Shavuot on one side and Rosh Hashanah, Yom Kippur and Sukkot on the other? To teach you that everyone who leaves gleanings for the poor is rewarded as if he had built the Temple and offered sacrifices there.” I have to admit that I am not completely satisfied with this answer because it infers quite a lot into the text and doesn’t fully explain why the verse is there. It’s a nice answer, but not a satisfying one for me.
If Rashi fails, there’s almost always Ibn Ezra and he explains the verse as follows: “The Feast of Weeks (Shavuot) is the festival of the first fruits of the wheat harvest. ‘So make sure that you do not forget what I commanded you about the harvest in 19:9.’” Personally, I find this even less satisfying that it’s just meant to be a reminder. Why not add other reminders elsewhere?
Nachmanides is equally unsatisfied with these answers: “Despite what Rashi and Ibn Ezra say about this verse, I think it refers to the harvesting of v. 10 (verse 10 is about the Omer), to emphasize that, even though the purpose of that harvest is to bring the first sheaf to the priest, it does not override the following two prohibitions: You shall not reap all the way to the edges of your field, or gather the gleanings of your harvest.”
I love Nachmanides’ answer for two reasons. First, he isn’t afraid to contradict Rashi or Ibn Ezra. He doesn’t say they’re wrong, but he thinks he’s more right, which wonderfully demonstrates how Judaism is multivocal and allows for many interpretations of the text. We all can wrestle with the text, trying to understand what it is that God wants from us, how we should follow God’s commands. Second, there is an understanding in Nachmanides’ answer that no matter the occasion, however sacred and joyful, we should always remember the poor and underprivileged and provide for them.
We are all meant to engage and wrestle with Torah to better know what God wants of us, keeping in mind that the ultimate goal is to make this world a better place.
Rabbi Ben Sternman is the spiritual leader of Adat Chaverim in Plano and the vice president of the Rabbinic Association of Greater Dallas.

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