Gifts to the Poor
Question #1: Living in Chutz la’aretz
“I live in chutz la’aretz. Am I required to leave peah in my backyard vegetable patch?”
Question #2: Leaving in Today’s World
“Is there a requirement to leave leket, shich’cha and peah in your field today?”
Question #3: Cluster Alms
“Why is it important to know how a typical cluster of grapes looks?”
While harvesting grain and other produce, the Torah presents six different mitzvah opportunities to provide for the poor: leket, shich’cha, peah, peret, oleilos, and maaser ani. These mitzvos, as well as many of the basic laws of the mitzvah of tzedakah, are discussed in the second mesechta of seder Zera’im, mesechta Peah, and in the commentaries thereon, including the Talmud Yerushalmi. As is the case with all the mitzvos hateluyos ba’aretz, the agricultural mitzvos of the Torah, there is no Talmud Bavli on Peah, although many of its topics are discussed, sometimes in great detail, in scattered places.
This article will provide a basic understanding of some of these six mitzvos and cover a few select details. In so doing, we will answer some of the questions asked above and leave the others for a future article.
Let us begin by quoting the pesukim that introduce these mitzvos. In parshas Kedoshim, the Torah mentions the mitzvos of peah, leket, peret and oleilos: When you reap the harvest of your land, do not complete harvesting the corner of your field, and the “leket” of your harvest you should not collect. From your vineyard, do not remove the “oleilos,” and the “peret” of your vineyard you should not collect. Leave them for the poor and the stranger (Vayikra 19:9-10).
I deliberately did not translate the words leket, oleilos and peret, since I will explain what these technical terms mean. Two of these mitzvos, peah and leket, are repeated in parshas Emor (Vayikra 23:22), in the midst of the Torah’s discussion about the festival cycle (parshas hamo’ados): When cutting the harvest of your land, do not complete the reaping of the corner of your field while you are harvesting, and the “leket” of your harvest you should not collect. Leave them for the poor and the stranger. In addition, the two mitzvos of peret and oleilos are again discussed at the end of parshas Ki Seitzei (Devorim 24:21), immediately following the Torah’s instructing the mitzvah of shich’cha. (We will quote the sources for the mitzvos of shich’cha and matanos aniyim later in this article.)
Several halachos are quite clear from these pesukim, even without any commentary. The mitzvah is to leave behind these four items: peah, leket, oleilos and peret and allow the impoverished to help themselves. This implies that the owner may not choose or favor one pauper over another in the distribution of these gifts, and that neither he, nor anyone else, is even permitted to assist one poor person over another. To quote the Mishnah: He who does not allow the poor to collect, or allows one of them to collect but not another, or helps one of them is stealing from the poor (Peah 5:6). This law applies equally to anyone, not only the field owner, who assists one poor person over another (see Peah 4:9).
At this point, we will explain the basics of the mitzvah of peah. The requirement of peah is to set aside a portion of your field that you do not harvest. There is no minimal requirement min haTorah regarding how large a section of the field must be designated as peah. In other words, the Torah’s mitzvah is fulfilled if someone sets aside only one stalk of grain. To quote the Mishnah: These items have no measured requirement: Peah, bikkurim, appearing in the Beis Hamikdosh on the festivals, performing kind deeds and studying Torah (Peah 1:1). This Mishnah is the basis for a halachic passage that we say every morning after we recite birkas haTorah, but what we say daily has other parts added to it from other statements of Chazal.
Why does the Mishnah mention only these five mitzvos? Are there no other mitzvos that have no “minimum amount” required in order to fulfill them?
Indeed, these are the only five mitzvos that fulfill the statement that they have no measured requirement, because min haTorah, these mitzvos have no minimum and also no maximum, whereas all other mitzvos have either a minimum or a maximum, min haTorah. The commentaries on this Mishnah raise questions about several other mitzvos that seemingly should be included in this list, making it more than five, and explain why each of these other mitzvos is not mentioned (Rash; Tosafos Yom Tov; Mishnah Rishonah).
Not all produce
Returning to the laws of peah, not everything that is grown must have peah separated from it. The Mishnah notes that only produce that has five specific characteristics is included in the mitzvah of peah. To quote the Mishnah: They (the earlier authorities) stated a rule regarding peah. Anything that (1) is food, (2) is guarded, (3) is nourished from the ground, (4) is reaped at one time, and (5) is brought in for long-term storage is obligated in peah. Grain and legumes are always assumed to be included (Peah 1:4).
In other words, the following categories of produce are exempt from peah:
(1) Products grown for feed or for dyestuffs (such as woad or indigo).
(2) Produce that is hefker, meaning that it is evident that the owner has no concern if other people take it.
(3) Cultivated mushrooms, truffles, and other fungi, because they do not draw their nourishment from the ground.
(4) Some varieties of produce do not ripen all at once. Instead, they are harvested in stages, as each fruit ripens. These types of products, such as figs, are exempt from the mitzvah of peah.
(5) Many varieties of vegetables and other produce cannot be stored unless they are frozen or canned. Any of these types of produce are exempt from peah. However, items that can be dried or stored as is, such as grain, beans, peas, carobs, nuts, grapes (can be stored either as wine or as raisins), olives (as oil) or dates (dried) are obligated in peah.
How much peah?
Earlier, we quoted the Mishnah that ruled that the Torah requirement of the mitzvah of peah has no minimum size. The Mishnah subsequently teaches that although the Torah did not require a minimum to fulfill this mitzvah, Chazal did, enacting a rule requiring the owner to set aside at least 1/60 of his field as peah. Furthermore, he is required to set aside a larger part than this for peah under some special circumstances, such as, he had a bumper crop, he is exceptionally wealthy, there are a lot of poor or the impoverished are exceptionally needy (Peah 1:2 according to various commentaries).
Must peah be in a corner of the field?
Notwithstanding that the Torah calls the mitzvah peah, and that, in the context of other mitzvos of the Torah, the word peah means a corner of some type, it is not required to set aside peah in a corner of the field, nor does it necessarily have to be set aside when the harvest is finished. In addition, at the beginning of the harvest, the owner may designate a part of his field as peah. To quote the Mishnah: You can give peah from the beginning of the field or from its middle (Peah 1:3).
Three times a day, the owner must appear at his field to allow the poor to collect what they are entitled (Peah 4:5). The three times of the day are in the morning, at midday and towards the late part of the afternoon. There appears to be a dispute among halachic authorities exactly what this Mishnah is ruling. According to some authorities, the poor may not enter the field unless the owner, or his representative, is there, but the owner is required to be there at these three times, or otherwise appoint a representative in his stead, who will be in the field these three times every harvest day (Rashas; Mishnah Rishonah).
The Rambam appears to understand the Mishnah and the halacha somewhat differently: The poor may not enter the field at any other time, but during these three times they are free to enter, whether or not the owner or his representative are there (Hilchos Matanos Aniyim 2:17). In his opinion, the Mishnah should be understood as follows: “Three times a day the pauper may appear at the field.”
Nobody get hurt!
The halacha is that the poor people reaping the peah may not use sickles or spades to gain access to the leftover produce. Since many poor people are in the field, and they are not coordinating their activities, using a heavy tool could cause someone to get hurt (Peah 4:4).
As noted above, peah and the other matanos aniyim that we have so far discussed should be left for the poor to take for themselves. However, there are exceptions:
(1) Something that is dangerous for the poor to harvest themselves. The Mishnah (Peah 4:1) chooses two examples of fruit — dates and grapes growing on trellises — where it might be dangerous for the poor to harvest the peah themselves (Rosh, Rav and Rashas ad loc.). Dates grow only on the new growth of a date palm. Since the dates will be only on the top of the tree and a palm tree can grow quite tall, it could certainly endanger the poor people, should they have to harvest the dates themselves.
Similarly, grapes grow on vines which are basically runners, rather than strong trees. To maximize the quantity and quality of their crop, it is common that vinedressers (people who cultivate grapevines) construct wooden frames called trellises, looking something like a jungle gym, and train the grape vines, which are very easy to educate, to grow on these trellises. However, it is not safe to allow the poor people to come collecting the peret grapes by themselves from trellises. Numerous poor people may attempt simultaneously to collect the grapes left on a trellis, and a trellis may not be strong enough to hold their collective weight.
To avoid people endangering themselves, in these instances the harvester cuts down the peah fruit and distributes what is there evenly among the poor who have assembled (Peah 4:1).
(2) A second case where the owner should harvest and distribute the produce is when all of the poor people who have arrived at the field want it divided evenly (Peah 4:2).
Maaser ani is mentioned in parshas Ki Savo, where the Torah states: When you complete the tithing of all the tithes of your produce in the third year, the year of the special tithe, then you shall make certain to give it to the Levi, the stranger, to the orphan and the widow, and they shall eat it within the gates of your cities and be satisfied (Devorim 26:12).
This posuk talks about creating at least two different tithes, and mentions that the third year has a special tithe that the earlier years do not have. In the third year, you must then give one maaser to the Levi, which we call maaser rishon, and a second maaser to the stranger, orphan or widow, which is clearly meant to be a maaser for the poor. This mitzvah of maaser ani is also mentioned in an indirect way, in parshas Re’eih (Devorim 14:28-29).
Thus, there is a fundamental difference between maaser ani and the other gifts to the poor in that, in general, the others are left for the poor people to help themselves. In other words, a poor person who is more agile and willing to work hard can collect a great deal more leket, shich’cha, peah, peret and oleilos then someone who has difficulty getting around. However, the posuk in parshas Ki Savo states that the owner gives the maaser ani to the poor. This implies that he can choose which poor person he wants to provide. In general, it is his to distribute to the poor, as he chooses.
At this point, we have enough background to the general laws of these mitzvos that we can return to of our opening questions. The first question was: “I live in chutz la’aretz. Am I required to separate peah on my backyard vegetable patch?”
In other words, do any of these mitzvos of matanos la’aniyim apply outside Eretz Yisroel?
Matanos aniyim in chutz la’aretz
Although these mitzvos are halachically categorized as mitzvos hateluyos ba’aretz, agricultural mitzvos, and the general rule is that these mitzvos apply only in Eretz Yisroel (Mishnah Kiddushin 36b), the Gemara (Chullin 137b) mentions that the mitzvah of peah applies in chutz la’aretz as a rabbinic injunction, and the Rambam explains that this includes all matanos aniyim (Hilchos Matanos Aniyim 1:14). We find this applies to several other of the mitzvos hateluyos ba’aretz, including challah, chodosh, terumos and maasros (because of space constraints, the details and definition of these different mitzvos will be left for other articles).
However, this does not yet resolve our question; regarding rabbinic injunctions germane to mitzvos hateluyos ba’aretz that are extended to chutz la’aretz, we find two different sets of rules:
In the case of challah, the mitzvah is applied to anywhere in chutz la’aretz. This is why, no matter where you live, you are obligated to separate challah from a large enough dough.
On the other hand, in the case of terumos and maasros, the requirement to separate them in chutz la’aretz applies only in lands near Eretz Yisroel, such as Mitzrayim, Amon, and Moav – today corresponding to parts of Egypt, Jordan and the Sinai and Negev deserts. There is no requirement to separate terumos and maasros from produce grown in Europe, anywhere else in Africa, the vast majority of Asia, and certainly not from produce grown in the Americas or Australia. (Which rule applies to chodosh is a topic for a different time.)
The question at hand is whether the matanos aniyim have the same halacha that applies to terumos and maasros, and therefore they apply only in lands near Eretz Yisroel, or whether they are treated like challah and apply everywhere. Most authorities conclude that the obligation of matanos aniyim applies only in places near Eretz Yisroel.
At this point, let us focus on the other question that we posed: “Is there a requirement to leave leket, shich’cha and peah in your field, today?”
Answering this question correctly requires that we explain another principle. Above I mentioned the Mishnah that states that if all of the poor people in a certain place want the peah to be divided evenly among them, rather than being available for each to forage as best he can, indeed the peah is divided evenly among the local poor. We can ask a question: Granted that the local poor people all agree to divide the matanos aniyim equally, however, these gifts do not belong only to them. All poor people, no matter where they live, are entitled to these matanos. If so, how can the locals decide to divide among themselves the matanos aniyim without taking into consideration the rights of those elsewhere, who are also potential owners of the matanos aniyim?
The answer is that the poor people who are not here have clearly been me’ya’eish, implicitly given up their legal right to the matanos aniyim that are here (see Bava Metzia 21b). The poskim conclude that any situation in which the owner can assume that the poor will not come to collect the matanos aniyim that are left in the field, he is permitted to collect them (Derech Emunah, Hilchos Matanos Aniyim 1:62).
In the days of King Munbaz there was a drought, and he distributed the entire royal treasury, accumulated over several generations, to the poor. His family members protested, saying that his predecessors had all increased the wealth of the monarchy, and Munbaz was disbursing it. Munbaz responded, “My ancestors stored below, and I stored above. They stored their wealth in a place where it could be stolen, and I stored in a place from where it cannot be stolen. They stored items that do not produce profits and I stored items that do. They stored money, and I stored lives. They stored for others, and I stored for myself” (Bava Basra 11a).