Leviticus 21:1–24:23‎ 

 By Jen Smith, Guest Torah Blog Writer

In this week’s Torah portion, Emor, which means “Speak”, God imparts a profound instruction to the landowners: 

When you reap the harvest from your land, you shall not remove the corners of your field… For the poor… shall you leave them… (Lev. 23:23). 

God’s directive to the Jewish people transcends our human understanding of charity and underscores a much deeper principle. Rather than instructing the people to give a portion of their crops to the poor, God emphasizes leaving a portion accessible for those in need. This is a subtle distinction, yes, but this subtlety carries significant weight. 

Taking from others, especially when we find ourselves in times of need, can be terrifying, overwhelming, and often humiliating. God recognizes our inherent human desire for self-sufficiency and dignity, and while we may need help from time to time, the striving for and longing to maintain our independence remains ingrained within us. 

When God instructs landowners to leave crops available at the outskirts of their land, He is recognizing the emotional burden of the needy in asking for help. Accessing these provisions discreetly, maybe even under the cover of darkness, spares those in need the humiliating task of admitting their need for help and acknowledging their dependence on others for sustenance. 

But what about the city folk? What about those individuals without tangible goods to share? In today’s predominantly non-agrarian society, this lesson still resonates beyond literal fields. Perhaps the essence of this teaching lies in anonymous giving, meaning contributing without seeking recognition or gratitude. Afterall, giving anonymously rests at the top on Rambam’s Tzedakah Ladder, making it the epitome of altruism. Such a gesture affirms that the donor’s motives are purely good, devoid of any ulterior motives or the desire to boost one’s stature. 

The more one can give anonymously, the more profound the act becomes. It transcends personal gain, focusing solely on alleviating the suffering of others. This form of giving, motivated solely by the desire to emulate God’s generosity, strengthens our connection to the ultimate source of abundance. 

By adhering to this principle, not only do we spare the recipients from embarrassment, but we also deepen our awareness of the divine providence behind our possessions. In embracing this ethos, we position ourselves to continually receive and share in the divine blessings that flow through us as conduits of generosity, and this realization contains tremendous healing power! Reflecting on the things I’ve lost that have caused a sleepless night or two in my past, I considered what it might feel like to have all the resources and comforts suddenly taken away. I could manage, easy breezy! I’m not so high maintenance.  

And then I think about the summer of 2011 when our washing machine broke the night before my first day of work at my new job and my then 2-year-old son’s first day of JCC summer camp. I spent a week (that felt like a month) washing clothes covered in food and mud in the basement bathtub while singing a version of If I Were a Rich Man Girl from Fiddler. And then I remembered the stories my great grandmother told me as a little girl about coming to America through Ellis Island, clothing stained and crusty from taking care of her three little siblings on her long journey from Poland to freedom. I decided I would sing Tradition instead.  

Ultimately, these hiccups in life are just that: minor hurdles. Life is often painful and challenges us all with far greater losses; losses that leave us feeling the crushing pain of broken hearts and spirits, not to mention any physical pain we might endure. However, it’s essential to recognize that our possessions and every worldly resource don’t really belong to us. This realization isn’t meant to diminish your sense of ownership; rather, it highlights that everything belongs to something greater than us, including the entire cosmos. 

Embracing this truth brings freedom and peace. Ultimately, nothing is truly ours, yet everything is simultaneously within our grasp. And as I grow older, I am learning to trust that something new, something meant to be, awaits just around the corner. We are all part of a greater whole, and as such, we can partake in the abundance of this world with joy and gratitude.