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?

Introduction

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).

Shich’cha

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

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).

Maaser ani

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.

Answering questions

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 YisraelMitzrayim, 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.

Conclusion

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.




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?”

Introduction

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).

Corner

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).

Corner

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).

Exceptional distributions

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

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.

Answering questions

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).

Conclusion

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).