Yom Rishon, 16 AdarI 5781
Sunday, 28 February 2021
Emor 2013

April 27 2013

Rabbi Sandra Kviat

Guilty gleanings

"And 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 the Lord am your God
(Leviticus 23:22)

I feel guilty, full, but guilty. My lunch which consisted of sushi from a shop around the corner came to 3.49 pounds. I normally buy the bigger version at 5.99 pounds, but today I could not bring myself to pay more than five pounds for lunch.

Next week is ‘Live below the Line’1 where people are encouraged to live for one pound a day for five days, to help raise awareness and to fundraise in order to make a difference in the fight against extreme poverty. That is five pounds for five days. My lunch today would have cost me about 75% of the budget for the whole week.

In parasha Emor we find the famous quote about leaving the corners of your field when harvesting. Any of the harvest that fell on the ground was to be left to the poor or those without their own land, who would glean or gather in the meagre leftovers. Last week’s parasha had the ‘full’ version which included harvesting in a vineyard.

Rabbi Ismar Schorsch explains that “the spirit of both verses is identical: at the very moment when we are overcome with a sense of entitlement, we should bear the plight of others less fortunate in mind. No matter how hard we laboured and worried to bring in this harvest, it does not belong wholly to us. Our personal blessing carries a measure of social responsibility. God forbids us from harvesting our crop down to the last stalk or shoot”2.

Most of us do not have a field or vineyard to harvest and so we symbolically leave a part of our field, our income, to charities who distribute the ‘gleanings’. This is based on the assumption that we would have a field to harvest or a vineyard to reap. But what if we were not that lucky? What if we had no inheritance from our parents? What if we were the victims of a natural disaster or economic system that left us with nothing? What if we were one of the gleaners who worked hard but only had a minimal gain?

It is in this spirit that 6 people from Liberal Judaism have signed up to Live Below the Line. Rabbi Anna Gerrard began her week on Monday and you can follow her experiences on her blog
So far she is doing okay though she burnt her lunch today and had to eat it nonetheless, and tonight at the Patron’s dinner at the House of Lords, she will have to drink only tap water while the rest of us will have drinks and dinner.

No one will check whether Anna or any of the others will not cheat and use something from the cupboard that they did not incorporate into their budget. But then neither did anyone check how big a corner the farmer left untouched, or whether the farmer did it at all. There were no agricultural auditors checking the vineyards. There were no percentage calculations; it was left up to the individual to assess for themselves. It created a model of mutual responsibility, but only if every landowner in the community accepted and acted on that responsibility.

Yet, as Ismar Schorsch warns, “we should not romanticize the saving power of faith based charity. The life of a gleaner always hung in the balance. The conscience of most landowners obliged them to do no more than the minimum, if that much”3.

1.4 billion people live in extreme poverty. Anna and the LJ Team alone will not be able to change that, despite their commendable efforts this week and the next. Nor are they romanticizing the struggle of the extremely poor. They are setting an example for themselves and for us to remind us of our mutual responsibility, to those we are in direct contact with and those who, through the global economic system, we are bound up with indirectly.

Their efforts has made me decide to calculate my food budget for this week and donate the equivalent amount to the LJ Team as part of my responsibility as a ‘landowner’. What gleanings will you leave?