13/14 May: Emor : Shabbat comes in 8:29 pm, ends 9:42 pm
Parashat Emor – Harvesters and Gleaners
‘When you reap the harvest of your land, you shall not reap all the way to the edges of your field, or gather the gleanings of your harvest; you shall leave them for the poor and the stranger; I am the Eternal your God.’ – Leviticus 23:22
If this statement feels eerily familiar to you, it might be because we read this law last week. Parashat Emor gives us the second version of the command to leave the corners of our fields for the needy, in almost identical wording to Parashat K’doshim. In fact, the first version of the commandment has slightly more information about our obligation – so why state it again?
The major difference between the two cases of this law is the context in which it appears. Parashat K’doshim, last week’s Torah reading, is largely a blueprint for an ethical society. It is a parashah interested in interpersonal relations and our obligations toward one another. It is, in a sense, the natural place to find such a rule. The second appearance of the obligation to leave the corners of the field for the needy – the version from this week’s Torah portion – comes as an interlude in a long passage regarding holy days and their associated sacrifices. This is not the natural place to find such a ruling!
The major connection between this obligation and the holy days is that many of the festivals are harvest festivals. These are times of the year that we are especially interested in what is happening in the fields. Furthermore, they are periods of time that are specifically intended to be joyous occasions. The context of this repetition can, therefore, serve to remind us that when we are busy and joyous, we are at high risk of overlooking the needs of the poor and the stranger.
Perhaps, this strange text can serve to remind us that this capacity for kindness still exists when life is ‘normal’, and when being busy and joyous draws our time and attention. Perhaps there is a great deal to be learnt from feeling like a gleaner instead of a harvester.