Gifts to the Poor
The Gemara tells us that the Torah reading of Sukkos includes references concerning gifts to the poor, to remind people of these mitzvos during harvest season.
Question #1: Leaving in Today’s World
“Is there a requirement to leave leket, shich’cha and pei’ah in your field today?”
Question #2: In Chutz La’Aretz
“I live in chutz la’aretz. Am I required to separate pei’ah on my backyard vegetable patch?”
Question #3: Cluster Alms
“Why do I need 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, pei’ah, peret, oleilos, and maaser ani. I discussed several of these mitzvos in a recent article, but did not complete the topic. This article picks up where that one left off.
In parshas Kedoshim, the Torah mentions the mitzvos of pei’ah, 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 they will be explained shortly.
Shich’cha, peret and oleilos are all discussed at the end of parshas Ki Seitzei (Devarim 24:19-21).
Maaser ani is mentioned in parshas Ki Savo (Devarim 26:12)
Two of these mitzvos, pei’ah and leket, are also discussed 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. This pasuk is the one included in our Sukkos reading.
Several halachos are quite clear from these pesukim, even without any commentary. The mitzvah is to leave behind these four items: pei’ah, 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 (Pei’ah 5:6).
The mitzvah of shich’cha is discussed only at the end of parshas Ki Seitzei (Devarim 24:19): When you reap your harvest in your field, and you forget a sheaf in the field, you may not return to get it; it shall be for the stranger, the orphan and the widow, so that Hashem, your G-d, will bless you in all your undertakings. Shich’cha is different from the other four mitzvos we have previously mentioned in one significant way – it applies to produce only as it is brought in from the field, and not any earlier or later (Pei’ah 5:8). Therefore, small bundles that were forgotten in the field, but where the intention, initially, was to combine them into larger bundles before bringing them in from the field, are not shich’cha (Pei’ah 5:8). This is different from the mitzvos of pei’ah, leket, peret and oleilos, which apply only at the time of the reaping, when the produce is being cut from the earth.
Shich’cha applies only when the owner or his workers forgot one or two bundles (Pei’ah 6:5). If they forgot three or more bundles, the law of shich’cha does not apply – the poor may not take it, and the owner may retrieve it.
Shich’cha applies only if we can assume that the sheaf or sheaves left behind are likely to be completely forgotten. However, it does not apply if the owner or his worker will remember later that the bundle was left behind, for any of a variety of reasons, such as, it was left in a place that he will remember where it was, or it was much larger than the rest of his sheaves (Rambam, Hilchos Matanos Aniyim 5:17). Another example is when they forgot to harvest from a certain tree, but they will later remember about the tree because it is distinctive, either because it has its own nickname, or it is unusual in some other way or in its location (Pei’ah 7:1-2).
Shich’cha applies also to grapes, as well as to olives and the fruit of other trees (Pei’ah 6:9; 7:1).
What is leket?
To quote the Mishnah: What is leket? That which falls at the time of the cutting… If it is within [the reaper’s] hand or his sickle, it qualifies as leket and belongs to the poor. If it is beyond his hand or his sickle, it belongs to the owner and does not qualify as leket (Pei’ah 4:10). In other words, stalks of grain that were cut by swinging a sickle, but were beyond the hand or the sickle of the harvester, do not qualify as leket, because they were not severed from the ground in the way that grain is usually cut (Bartenura).
Three and over
The law of leket applies only when the reaper dropped one or two stalks at a time, but if he dropped three or more stalks, he may pick up the stalks and add them to his harvest, and the poor people are not permitted to take them (Pei’ah 6:5).
Piled on top of the leket
What is the halacha if the owner of the field or his employees collected the produce of his own harvest and then piled it in an area of the field where the poor people had not yet collected the leket. In this instance, we will no longer be able to ascertain how much leket grain in the field rightfully belongs to the poor, because the reapers’ pile creates a mixture of leket grain that belongs to the poor and non-leket grain that belongs to the owner.
To discourage this from happening, Chazal instituted that the entire bottom layer of the grain pile is considered the property of the poor (Pei’ah 5:1), even when it is impossible that so much grain fell as leket. This ruling is a penalty leveled upon the owner, to make sure that he does not allow such a practice. He should make sure that his workers pile their produce in an area that does not contain any leket.
What are peret and oleilos?
We have not yet explained the other two mitzvos that are taught in the pasuk that I quoted above, peret and oleilos. These two gifts to the poor exist only regarding grapes.
Peret is to a vineyard what leket is to grain. In other words, while picking the grapes, should a single grape or two fall from the hand of the harvester, they must be left for the poor (Pei’ah 6:5; 7:3). However, just as we explained before that three stalks of grain falling together while cutting are not leket, three of more grapes falling at one time are not peret and may be retrieved by the owner.
Oleilos are grapes that did not grow as part of a proper cluster. Ordinarily, a cluster of grapes includes many small bunches that grow off the main stem near the top of the cluster; when the grapes lie upon one another, they create a bulge, appearing a bit like a “shoulder,” near the top of the cluster. In addition, the central stem of typical cluster grows longer than the small bunches that branch off it, which causes some grapes to hang down at the bottom of the cluster. These two features provide a cluster of grapes with its traditional appearance of the widest part near, but not at, the very top, and the bottom being narrowest, where a few grapes hang lower than the rest of the cluster.
Oleilos are when a cluster of grapes grows without a “shoulder” at the top of the cluster and without any grapes of the main stem hanging lower than the rest of the cluster. A bunch of grapes growing without these features may not be harvested by the owner or his workers and is left for the poor (Pei’ah 7:4).
Regarding maaser ani, the Torah states: When you complete all the tithes of your produce in the third year, the year of the special tithe, make certain to give it to the Levi, the stranger, the orphan and the widow, who will eat it within the gates of your cities and be satisfied (Devarim 26:12).
This pasuk alludes to at least two different tithes, and teaches that the third year has a tithe different from the previous years. In the third year, you must give one maaser, which we call maaser rishon, to the Levi, and a second maaser that is a maaser for the poor (the stranger, the orphan and the widow). This mitzvah, maaser ani, is mentioned also in parshas Re’eih (Devarim 14:28-29).
There is a fundamental difference between maaser ani and the other gifts to the poor. As mentioned above, gifts to the poor are left for them to help themselves. A more agile and industrious poor person can collect a great deal more leket, shich’cha, pei’ah, peret and oleilos than someone who has difficulty getting around. However, the pasuk in parshas Ki Savo states that the owner gives the maaser ani to the poor, meaning that he chooses which poor person will be the lucky recipient.
At this point, we have enough background that we can discuss one of our opening questions. “I live in chutz la’aretz. Am I required to separate pei’ah on my backyard vegetable patch?” In other words, do any of these mitzvos of matanos la’aniyim apply outside Eretz Yisrael?
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 Yisrael (Mishnah Kiddushin 36b), the Gemara (Chullin 137b) mentions that the mitzvah of pei’ah 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 discussed in other articles).
Regarding where in chutz la’aretz these mitzvos hateluyos ba’aretz are applied miderabbanan, there are two different sets of rules:
In the case of challah, the mitzvah applies anywhere in chutz la’aretz. Wherever you live, you are obligated to separate challah from a large enough dough.
Regarding terumos and maasros, the requirement to separate them applies only in lands near Eretz Yisrael – Mitzrayim, Amon, and Moav – corresponding to parts of contemporary 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.
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 Yisrael, 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 Yisrael.
At this point, let us focus on the first question that we posed: “Is there a requirement to leave leket, shich’cha and pei’ah in your field today?”
Answering this question correctly requires that we explain another principle. In the earlier article, I mentioned the Mishnah that states that if all of the poor people in a certain place want the pei’ah to be divided evenly among them, rather than being available for each to forage as he best can, the pei’ah 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 people here decide how to divide their local matanos aniyim, without taking into consideration the rights of poor people elsewhere, who are also potential owners of the matanos aniyim?
The answer is that the poor people who are outside this locale have clearly been me’ya’eish, implicitly given up their legal right to the local matanos aniyim (see Bava Metzia 21b). The poskim conclude that in 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 and keep them (Derech Emunah, Hilchos Matanos Aniyim 1:62). Therefore, in today’s world where poor people are not traveling to fields to collect their matanos, there is no obligation to leave leket, shich’cha, pei’ah, peret and oleilos.
In our discussion of the mitzvah of shich’cha, we quoted the pasuk that states that someone who observes this mitzvah will have all his undertakings blessed by Hashem. Rashi (Vayikra 5:17) notes the extent of this blessing. After all, the person forgot only one sheaf, yet Hashem blesses all his undertakings. As Rashi expresses it: We see from here that if someone dropped a coin, and a poor person found it and supports himself with it, Hashem provides the loser of the coin with a beracha.