Tag Archives: Leket

Nazirites, Levites, and Agriculture (N#194-230)

Read the full text here.

The most famous Nazirite was undoubtedly Samson, depicted here wrestling a lion.

Summary: Mitzvah #194 is not to consume yayin nesech, wine that was used or created for idolatrous purposes. The following mitzvah is not to be a glutton. The next four are not to eat on Yom Kippur, and not to eat chametz or something that has chametz in it on Pesach or the afternoon before Pesach. This is followed by the prohibitions of having any chametz be seen or found in one’s possession on Pesach. The next four are for a Nazirite not to consume any grapes or grape-related products, then two for a Nazirite not to become impure through proximity to a corpse, and for a Nazirite not to shave or get a haircut. Mitzvah #210 is not to harvest one’s entire field (but rather to leave a corner, pe’ah, to be freely consumed by the poor and disadvantaged). Similarly, #211 is not to gather fallen produce (leket), but leave them for the needy, and #213 is specifically not to gather fallen grapes. Mitzvah #212 is not to harvest undeveloped grape clusters, and #214 is not to gather in forgotten sheaves (but leave them for the needy as well). The next three prohibitions all deal with kilayim, crossbreeding different species. Mitzvah #218 is not to work two different animals together under one yoke, and #219 is not to muzzle an animal while it is working, but allow it to eat of the fields it is working on. The next four mitzvot all prohibit working the land in various ways in the Sabbatical shemitah year, followed by two similar ones for the Jubilee year. Mitzvah #227 is not to sell lands in Israel permanently, since plots of land must be returned to their original owners every Jubilee. Unlike the other tribes, the Levites were not given specific borders within Israel. They were only given specific cities, and mitzvah #228 is not to change the status of these cities or take them away from the Levites. This is followed by a prohibition of forsaking or abandoning Levites. The Jewish people are required to take care of the priestly class. Finally, there are three mitzvot dealing with lending money to a fellow Jew, including not seeking repayment after a shemitah.

Insight: Although true idolatry is uncommon and rare today, the default status of any wine produced by gentiles is still yayin nesech. In the full version of Sefer HaMitzvot, the Rambam notes that the Torah forbid specifically wine that was used in idolatry, but when it comes to all gentile wines – whether used in idolatry or not – these were prohibited by rabbinic decree. In fact, they were among the 18 laws instituted by Beit Shammai back in the first century CE, in that infamous incident of when Beit Shammai forcibly took the majority in the Sanhedrin and pushed their stringencies through! (See Shabbat 17b, for instance.) To avoid the prohibition of yayin nesech, wine can be “boiled”, mevushal. By flash-boiling it, the yayin mevushal becomes permissible. Most kosher wines on the market today are mevushal. However, more and more wines made in Israel and in Jewish-owned wineries around the world are non-mevushal. Some believe that the flash-boiling process affects the flavour and quality of the wine, and prefer consuming only non-mevushal wine.

Further Reading: ‘The Science of Chametz’

Mitzvot of Donations and Tithes (P#110-133)

Read the full text here.

Summary: Mitzvot #110-112 all involve the purification ceremony for a person who had been afflicted with tzara’at, loosely translated as “leprosy”. Mitzvah #113 is to prepare the Red Heifer, which was used to make a special purifying solution that alone was capable of removing the impurity of death. Mitzvot #114-117 have to do with various “valuations” for one who vows to donate different types of property to the Temple. The 118th mitzvah is to make restitution if a person unintentionally used a sacred object. The next mitzvah is that of neta reva’i, that the fruits of a tree in its fourth year are considered holy. (Recall that fruits in the first three years of a tree’s life are orlah, and forbidden to be consumed.) Mitzvah #120 is pe’ah, for every farmer to leave a corner of his field for the destitute and disadvantaged of society to consume freely. Similarly, all produce that naturally fell to the ground should be left behind for the poor (leket), and any sheaves that may have been forgotten in the field during harvesting should be left there for the poor, too. Finally, there are two mitzvot dealing specifically with leaving behind malformed grape clusters, and fallen grapes, for the destitute and the foreigners. Mitzvot #125-133 all deal with various tithes and gifts to the kohanim and the Temple. To learn more about each of these, please read ‘A Brief Summary of Tithes and Charity’ here.

Citrus Harvest in pre-State Israel

Insight: In many of the mitzvot above, we see how far ahead of its time the Torah was. The Torah takes tremendous care of all members of society, including widows and orphans, the impoverished, the ill, foreigners and strangers in the land, and public servants like Levites and kohanim. The Torah seeks to establish a unified, vibrant community, and ensures that citizens will take care of each other. Indeed, this is one of the key reasons why Jewish communities throughout history have survived and thrived, no matter the time or place. With the Torah as a blueprint, Jewish communities have always made sure to establish charitable institutions to take care of the collective. Moreover, Jews have always been at the forefront of social justice and equality for everyone. In America, for instance, Jews like Samuel Gompers and Louis Brandeis dedicated their lives to improving the wellbeing of all, and helped introduce things like weekends, worker’s benefits, and fair wages. In Germany, it was Lina Morgenstern who introduced the world to kindergartens and soup kitchens. There are countless other examples of Jews who have transformed the world for the better in such ways.