“When you reap your harvest in your field and forget a sheaf in the field, you shall not go back to take it; it shall be [left] for the stranger, the orphan, and the widow, so that the Lord, your God, will bless you in all that you do.” (Devorim 25:19)
The harvest season was a joyous one for the farmer. Months of hard labor, weeks of uncertainty had finally yielded a beautiful bounty. It is in this very moment of harvest that God commands the farmer that if he inadvertently leaves behind some harvested grain, he must leave it for the poor. If the farmer complies, he is promised beautiful blessing from God. This became known as the mitzvah of shichicha (forgetfulness).
God will bless you – Although [the forgotten sheaf came into his hand without intention [of the owner]. How much more so [will one be blessed] if he did it deliberately! Hence, you must say that if someone dropped a sela, and a poor man found it and was sustained by it, then he [who lost the coin] will be blessed on its account. — [Sifrei 24:149]
Rashi was bothered by the idea that blessing would come on account of an unintentional act. After all, the farmer did not intend to give anything to the pauper. He would have preferred to prevent the sheaf from falling and being left behind. Yet, despite this “inadvertent mitzvah”, he receives blessing and reward from God. Why should the farmer be rewarded for this inadvertent act? A mitzvah is meaningful when it stems from a desire to serve God, infuse light into the world, and create purposeful change. The farmer forgot a sheaf of wheat. Why should this be counted as a mitzvah for which one receives reward?
The Ibn Ezra (Avraham ben Meir Ibn Ezra, 1089-1167) explains that nothing happens by accident. When the farmer leaves behind a sheaf of wheat, it stems from a subconscious desire to be charitable and provide for the poor. On a conscious level, the farmer wants to take in every last stalk, while on a subconscious level, he wants to share with his impoverished brothers and sisters. The mitzvah of shichicha shows us that on a subconscious level we want to do good. There are times in life when we are not conscious of what we want to do or who we want to become. Holiness is part of our core and the very fabric of our persona. This personalistic holiness presents itself in so many ways, including the things we forget in the field.
This idea is profound as it highlights a fundamental belief – at our core, we are holy and good. We do not believe that man is inherently evil and must overcome his innate darkness in order to become holy. We believe that man is inherently good, kind, charitable, and holy. God rewards for our inadvertent mitzvos as they highlight the holy subconscious we each possess.
As we progress through the month Elul and take stock of what we have and have not done, we sometimes feel depressed over our mistakes and missteps. We think that our mistakes have compromised our inner purity and have rendered us broken and at times, irreparable. The mitzvah of shichicha reminds me that no matter what I have done or how many mistakes I have made, holiness is part of my core. At times, my personal holiness may not be apparent on the conscious, visible level, but it is always present beneath the surface, just waiting to come out and illuminate the world.
“You shall set up judges and law enforcement officials for yourself in all your cities that the Lord, your God, is giving you, for your tribes, and they shall judge the people [with] righteous judgment.” (Devorim 16:18)
The beauty of our Torah lies in its ability to convey profound, life-enhancing messages in a nuanced and gentle manner. Moshe instructs us to set up judicial systems in each of our communities. The judges must be just, pious, and upright and dedicate themselves to upholding the rule of law. They may not give preferential treatment to one litigant over the other, and their conduct, both in and out of the court, must be beyond reproach. They must overcome their fear of the powerful and not instinctively side with the poor. Their ultimate allegiance is to God, the Torah, and the creation and preservation of a just society.
The great Chassidic master, Rav Levi Yitzchak of Berditchev (1740-1809), sees an additional, spiritual and interpersonal message in this verse. During this month of Elul, we prepare for the upcoming Days of Judgement, Yimei HaDin. We ask God for mercy and compassion. We ask our Father to look at us through the Divine lens of Rachamim (compassion) and not through the prism of Din (justice). How do we “convince” God to make this shift? After all, if I have done something wrong, if I have committed some relationship trespass against God, what right do I have to ask for the mercy? If I have committed the “crime”, am I am not deserving of the punishment?
The Rebbe explains that our actions in this world impact and inform the way God acts towards us. The Baal Shem Tov explains that God is like our shadow (Hashem Tzilcha –Psalms 121:5); meaning just as my shadow mimics my every move, so too, God’s reaction towards me is a reflection of my actions towards others. Thus, if we want Divine compassion and mercy, we must extend those very traits and behaviors towards others. If I want God to give me the benefit of the doubt, I must extend that same courtesy to another. If I want God to see beyond my faults and shortcomings, I must strive to do this for those around me. If I want God to bestow blessing upon me, I must go out of my way to bestow upon others. If I want God to help me in difficult times, I must be ready to roll up my sleeves and help another in his time of need.
This is the meaning of the above-mentioned verse. “Shoftim V’Shotrim Titen Lecha B’chol She’arecha, (you shall set up judges and law enforcement officials for yourself in your cities)” – I have the ability to influence Divine judgment through the judgements I make within my own city, within my own world. “V’shaftu Es Ha’am Mishpat Tzedek, (you shall judge the people righteously)” – If I judge the other with compassion, if I judge the other with mercy, if I give the other the benefit of the doubt – I will bring down Divine compassion from above.
It is during this sacred month that we must prepare ourselves to give an accounting of the past year and to ask for another year in which we can accomplish and be productive. We all need a bit of Divine compassion, Rachamim to help us through this process. We learn from this opening verse that the best way to convince God to take care of us is to take care of one another. If we shower compassion, mercy, and love upon one another; if we are a bit less critical of one another; we will be privileged to receive a generous dose of Rachamim from our Father above.
Let us learn this lesson, let us live this lesson, and in its merit, may we all be inscribed in the Book of Life.