Parasha / E-Letter

Parashat Emor: Ensuring a Fine Harvest

0 Comments 10 May 2017

In his dvar Torah to Parashat Emor, Rabbi Uri Ayalon discusses the importance of the caring for the weak and vulnerable – not just for their sake, but also for our own.

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By Rabbi Uri Ayalon

When I set out to write this Torah commentary I hesitated between a number of subjects as this week’s reading, Emor, is rich in verses reflecting an approach that one can agree with or not, can love greatly or less so, but  that can be examined in the light of today’s reality and be translated into our lives.

I chose to focus on a verse that is a constitutive verse that defines the kind of society we want to live in.

“When you reap the harvest of your Land, you shall not completely remove the corner of your field during your harvesting, and you shall not gather up the gleanings of your harvest. [Rather,] you shall leave these for the poor person and for the stranger. I am the Lord, your God” (Leviticus 23: 22).

We are these days in the time of the counting of the Omer— the climax of which is the festival of Shavuot and the harvest season.

The harvest season during the good years is a time of expansion of the heart. It is a time when the farmer sees the results, the great bounty of his work, and sees abundance in front of him. This is a special and dangerous moment. It is a special moment since it is not something to be taken for granted. The planting, the waiting and then reaching fulfillment at the time of harvest is a period filled with anxiety, one that repeats itself each year. Reaching success can bring one to a state of drunkenness, to a feeling of haughtiness of heart, but mainly to forgetting others in the sense of “I myself, and nothing else”.

Of course, Judaism challenges this in various ways: in the relationship between the individual and God, but also by providing a model for structuring society.

These very gifts to the poor, the corner of the field (Peah), and  the gleanings (Leket) that appear in our verse and to which is  also added the forgotten crop (Shichecha), they are a kind of setting of clear  boundaries against haughtiness on the one hand, but on the other hand create the understanding that society is made up of different socio-economic layers, and there is at this time a requirement to take care of the weak and disadvantaged.

However, there is also another aspect to this same verse, the aspect of the bad years, those during which the land does not give its bounty, when there is a poor harvest. The reference to this obligation to share is very sharp and clear to the farmers: they must be concerned with the needs of the weak, as this is the insurance policy that they will be taken care of also during years of failure.

This is in practice a social insurance arrangement  that concerns itself every moment, and at all times with the “weakest links” of society.

At the root of this approach there is hidden, or is not hidden, another thing: “sometimes you are up high, and sometimes you are down low”.

When people are on the pinnacle, they usually don’t see those below them and are mainly in awe of the beautiful view and the quiet, but when people are below the way up looks difficult, and even impossible.

This very harvest of crops, dependent on so many factors over which individual humans have no control over,  brings us gratitude,  thankfulness, and a broader view of what is around us.

It is our duty to understand that social resilience stems from the knowledge that only mutual responsibility can bring with it a fine harvest.

Rabbi Uri Ayalon is member of Rabbis for Human Rights

Special thanks to Rabbi Yehiel Grenimann for translation

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