In this week’s parsha we find a plethora of mitzvoth. The Sefer Hachinuch counts no less than 51 different mitzvoth, and his system of counting is disputed by many as not being inclusive enough!! (Note on this issue the lack of “kedoshim teheyu” as a mitzvah according to the Chinuch).
In this shiur I would like to focus on a small group of mitzvoth and try to understand the nature of their obligation.
The Torah tells us (19:9-10) that we have obligations to the poor during the harvest of our crops. We are required to leave a portion of the field “unharvested” so that the poor can reap the crops themselves (known as “peah” in grain and its parallel in the vineyard is known as “olillot”). In the part of the field that we harvest for ourselves we are meant to leave over any of the produce that innocently falls from our hands in the process, also for the needy (this is known as “leket”, “shichicha” and in the vineyard “peret”).
[In these days of economic uncertainty in the world in general and in Israel specifically, it is worth noting how the Torah planned to provide for the poor and what the obligations of the rich are towards the poor. Leket, shichicha and peah are only one part of the Torah’s economic plan, and must be viewed in the wider picture which included the realm of Trumot and Maasrot in conjunction with the intricate laws of commerce and fair trade. Obviously this is not the forum for such a detailed discussion but I think that it would provide important conversation at your Shabbat table].
The interesting question is how are we to count these mitzvoth? Both the Rambam and the Chinuch count each of these mitzvoth twice, once as a positive commandment and once as a negative commandment. In other words we have both a mitzvah to leave over part of the field (positive) and a prohibition against harvesting the portion left over (negative). This is a phenomenon that we have in many places. Take Shabbat for example where we are commanded to not do work on Shabbat (negative) and as well to “keep” Shabbat (the positive side) even though it is really two sides of the same coin. By not doing work on Shabbat we are “keeping” Shabbat and automatically have fulfilled both mitzvoth. Conversely, by doing work on Shabbat we transgress both the positive and the negative aspects.
In the mitzvah of Peah I think the model is very much the same we are told to leave over part of the field and not harvest it. When it comes to the other mitzvoth, however, I think that we run into a bit of a problem.
With respect to “shichicha” we are told not to pick up the parts that we drop along the way. The negative commandment is clear to all “do not pick up produce that has fallen”, but what can the positive side of the mitzvah be? Lack of intent is central to the definition of the mitzvah, if one were to intentionally leave part of the produce behind it would not qualify as “shichicha” (literally= forgotten).
The Rambam (Matnot Aniyim 1:2) provides us with a technical answer to this question. The Rambam explains that the positive commandment takes effect only in the event that the negative one has been violated. If I had dropped part of the produce and ignoring the mitzvah of leket or shichicha, I took it for myself, I now have an additional obligation to actively search out a poor person and give it to them. This is a classic case of “laav haneetak leaseh” a negative commandment that has been linked to a positive one. In such cases one does not receive the standard punishment for having transgressed the negative mitzvah as the Torah provides a “second chance” and allows one to fulfill the positive mitzvah and thereby “correcting” the problem.
[For more details see Makkot 15b and the Rambam in Hilchot Gezeila where he discusses what happens in cases where one is unable to fulfill the positive mitzvah at a later stage].
According to the Rambam the positive mitzvah is only “bedieved” and is not a mitzvah “lechatchila”.
I believe that there is another approach to the issue based on a fascinating Midrash. The Tosefta in Peah (3:8) tells us of a “chasid” who forgot a bundle in his field, upon realizing what he had “done” he jovially told his son to offer two sacrifices to Hashem in gratitude of his having fulfilled the mitzvah of shechecha. His son asked him why he was so excited about this particular mitzvah and he responded that precisely because this is a mitzvah that can only be fulfilled unintentionally it is so special. “If the Torah promises us Bracha for a mitzvah which we have no intent for, how much more so will we receive reward for the mitzvoth that we do have intent for”.
This Chasid was elated over the fulfillment of the mitzvah, not just having avoided the negative prohibition, but for actually having fulfilled the positive commandment. He clearly felt that the mitzvah is even at the “lechatchila” stage and serves more than simply being a safety net.
What results is a very interesting conclusion. Alongside our Avodat Hashem which requires constant concentration and diligence there is another element which entails a “coincidental” type of Avodat Hashem. We are actually fulfilling a positive mitzvah by forgetting!! A conscious effort only detracts from our ability to achieve this form of serving God. How can we even suggest such a concept?
I think the key is in noticing the details of the story related in the Midrash. The individual’s reaction upon his discovery of his mistake is critical in understanding the Midrash. When one suddenly remembers that one forgot an item we naturally feel frustrated, even more so when the lapse in memory causes us financial loss and it is clear to us that we cannot recover this loss. For the standard man on the street the instinctive reaction to such an event is frustration.
In our story the Chasid reacts quite differently, he is struck by the realization of his mistake and immediately is filled with intense joy. Rather than fretting over the financial loss, which was probably minimal, he instructs his son to offer two bulls as sacrifices to thank Hashem for the opportunity to have fulfilled this mitzvah. The final cost of this mistake was increased enormously out of his own volition and with a sense of pride and joy.
The character is described in the Midrash as a “chasid”, one who goes above and beyond the call of duty. He is described as such because he has reached a level of religious consciousness whereby even his mistakes are put into a religious context and are seen as an opportunity to serve God.
I believe that this is part of this week’s parsha that opens with the general statement Kedoshim Tehiyu- Be Holy and then goes on to list what seems to be a disjoined group of mitzvoth. Our overall goal is to be holy, to lead lives that revolve around Avodat Hashem and encompass all aspects of our existence. When we can reach the deeper levels where even our mistakes are pointed in the right direction we can truly fulfill the concept of Kedoshim Tehiyu.