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Shabbat Parashat Teruma 5774

Ein Ayah: The Contribution of the Poor

(condensed from Ein Ayah, Peiah 2)

Gemara: One who does not allow the poor people to harvest the pei’ah, or he allows one but not another, or he helps one of them is considered to have stolen from the poor, and upon him the pasuk says: “Do not seize the boundary of eternity” (Mishlei 23:10).


Ein Ayah: The Torah commanded to specifically leave the corner of the field for the poor, so that they can harvest it like one harvests his own produce. This teaches us that the giving to the poor should not be done as an act of extreme generosity and mercy from the perspective of the one who gives, but rather it is a statute of what should be – the Torah has given the poor that portion as theirs.

The general principle behind this approach is to eliminate the mistake that some people have that poverty is a phenomenon that is bereft of all good for the world. They reason that the poor do not contribute to society but only receive from society. If they were right, then the poor would not have rights to any part of the produce, and it would require special generosity for field owners to give them something.

This way of thinking could even bring one to haughty opposition to the path of Hashem, which is based on justice and charity, and about such a phenomenon, the pasuk says: “One who scoffs at a poor person blasphemes his Maker” (Mishlei 17:5). One who thinks there is something in the world that is totally bereft of value is already far from grasping Hashem’s way, as His actions are complete. Everything which is mainly bad was prepared for the good that is to come out of it. The fact that we view it as bad is only in respect to the individual and to the short term; in the all-inclusive view of eternity and the breadth of the existence of the world, everything connects to goodness.

This is also true of poverty, which certainly brings about several good attributes. It fosters improved humanism and the softening of the hard heart. The very inclination to be generous and to share in the pain of another and the implementation of love of kindness are all precious characteristics, which crown the human spirit. These complement the crown of intellectual capacity and the grasping of truths. They could not be accomplished without poverty, and there must be many other gains of the existence of poverty of which we are not aware. Thus, the poor take part in the moral work of bringing general human society to its desired level no less than others do. For this reason, the part that the poor receive from the produce that was grown by others must be done in a way that makes it clear that they have earned their part by law and not by mercy alone.

The greatest sign that poverty is needed to improve the world is that it is ever-present and very common. This is what the cited pasuk means by “the boundary of eternity.” Something that exists for a long time in human nature must have a purpose based on Divine Providence. Therefore, one who seems to contradict this by not letting the poor harvest their portion, even though he gives the poor person that which he needs, has already denied the fundamental truth that  they are not recipients of handouts but get what they deserve in justice. It is not the field owner who decides these things, and therefore he cannot decide to give one over the other or even to help one, because this follows the incorrect understanding that he decides upon whom to have mercy. Rather, one must internalize that there is nothing lacking in Hashem’s ways and that poverty is needed to for an important purpose of improving characteristics and thereby actions so that we will be saved from punishment in gehinom.
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