“And when you gather the cuttings of your land, do not cut the corner of your field when you harvest, and the fallings of your harvesting do not gather. For the poor man and the convert, you should leave them.”
– VaYikra 23:22
The Torah reading on the first days of Sukkos outlines the yamim tovim of the year and their sacrifices. In the middle of the detailing of all of the holidays, the Torah repeats the mitzvah of leket, shik’chah, and pei’ah, the commandments to leave a portion of your harvest for the poor. Rashi is troubled by the placement of this in the middle of the descriptions of the holidays. He explains that the Torah is teaching us that if someone gives leket, shik’chah, and pei’ah to a poor person properly, it is as if he built the Holy Temple and brought all of his sacrifices there.
This is very difficult to understand. What possible comparison is there between this simple mitzvah of leaving a portion to the poor man and the colossal mitzvah of bringing all of the sacrifices on each holiday? Even more, how can giving charity be equal to the building of the Beis HaMikdash?
The Heart of Our Nation
The center point of each moed is the avodah done in the Beis HaMikdash. It is difficult for us to imagine the holiness invested and the spiritual accomplishments attained when the korbanos are brought.
A kohen is a holy Jew who spends his life dedicated towards spirituality. From his earliest youth, he is trained in learning to eventually join the ranks of the Torah teachers in Israel. Only when he is twenty-five is he ready to begin his apprenticeship as a kohen. He will spend five years learning, preparing, practicing, and then he may finally serve, but only for the next twenty years. As there were thousands of kohanim, each kohen would only get to do limited parts of the actual service, and even that for only two weeks out of a year.
For each yom tov, a team of hundreds of the holiest people of the generation were involved in the preparations and the actual service. With the L’vi’im singing, and the rest of the Jewish nation waiting, the assigned kohen goes through the actual process. Scripted from beginning till end, he must maintain the exact intentions throughout the service and follow the procedure to the letter.
These korbanos affect both the upper worlds and the physical world in a profound manner. The Gemara tells us that if the gentiles had known the impact of the sacrifices, they would have surrounded the Beis HaMikdash with armies and not allowed anything to interfere.
So how can Rashi say that when a man leaves part of his produce for the poor man, it is equivalent to all of this? All he did was refrain from picking up the droppings from his harvest and leave a corner of his field to the poor. In what way can this be compared to the spiritual impact of having built the Holy Temple and bringing all the sacrifices?
The answer to this can best be understood by focusing on a concept that Chazal share with us.
The Great Opportunity to Help Another
“More than what the rich man does for the poor man is what the poor man does for the rich man” (Midrash Rabbah Rus 5:9).
The reason behind this Chazal is based on the very purpose of Creation. Hashem created man to give to him. By placing man in this world and giving him free will, Hashem allowed him the opportunity of perfecting himself so he could enjoy the greatest pleasure: basking in Hashem’s presence forever. In accordance with the level of perfection that he reaches here, he will be able to enjoy closeness to Hashem.
The measure of all perfection is Hashem. The more like Hashem a man is, the more perfect he is, and the closer to Hashem he is. The Torah is the system of spiritual perfection. Its mitzvos bring a person nearer to Hashem by making him more like Hashem.
Hashem needs nothing and does nothing for Himself. This entire Creation and everything in it was fashioned to benefit others. Hashem is the Benefactor. And so, the more of a giver a person is, the more like Hashem he is, and thereby, the more perfect he is.
Hashem Is Perfect
There is, however, one critical observation that bears mentioning. Hashem is very good at doing what He does. He doesn’t need help running the world. And He has lots and lots of money. If Hashem wished it to be, there wouldn’t be poor people. Even more, the entire concept of poverty and wealth wouldn’t exist. Hashem created a world with different sorts of people. Some are strong, and some are weak. Some are brilliant, and some are not. Some are wealthy, and some are poor. But it wasn’t by accident, and it wasn’t because Hashem ran out of money. Hashem created the world this way to allow people the opportunity to use their strengths and talents, their resources and situations. If man uses his opportunities wisely, not only does he grow, but he is credited with the accomplishment.
If a wealthy person sustains a poor man, it is considered as if he gave life to that person. Even though it’s Hashem’s world, and even though Hashem gave wealth to the rich man, if the wealthy man gives to the poor man, he is credited with saving him.
This seems to be the answer to what Rashi said.
Granted, when the kohanim brought the avodah, it was a spiritual act of extraordinary impact. But the source and measure of all holiness is Hashem. The way that Hashem shows Himself in this world is through giving. When man gives to others, he is acting as Hashem does. There can be nothing holier.
The Torah is teaching us that when you leave over your leket and shikchah, you are acting as much like Hashem as you possibly can. When I take care of another’s needs, that is spirituality. It’s not second rate, not some add-on. This is the highest level of spirituality.
This concept has particular relevance, as we find much of the spiritual aspirations today are focused on certain mitzvos. While all mitzvos are holy, we need to remain cognizant that their aim is to bring us closer to Hashem. The way we do that is to be like Hashem as much as we are able. The more that we are focused on the needs of others, the more like Hashem we become.
Born and bred in Kew Gardens Hills, R’ Ben Tzion Shafier joined the Choftez Chaim Yeshiva after high school. Shortly thereafter he got married and moved with his new family to Rochester, where he remained in for 12 years. R’ Shafier then moved to Monsey, NY, where he was a Rebbe in the new Chofetz Chaim branch there for three years. Upon the Rosh Yeshiva’s request, he stopped teaching to devote his time to running Tiferes Bnei Torah. R” Shafier, a happily married father of six children, currently resides in Monsey.