It is nearly time for Thanksgiving, and throughout the United States communities are putting up posters for holiday food drives.

Giving food to the poor is certainly one of the oldest forms of charity, and the Torah regards the charity of sustenance as a fundamental imperative.

When you reap your harvest in your field and forget a sheaf in the field, you shall not go retrieve it…When you beat your olive-tree, you shalt not go over the boughs again…When you gather the grapes of your vineyard, you shall not glean it afterward; it shall be for the stranger, for the fatherless, and for the widow… (Deuteronomy 24:19-21).

Similarly it is written:

When you reap the harvest of your land, you shall not wholly reap the corners of your field…you shall leave them for the poor and for the stranger (Leviticus 19:9-10).

In ancient times, after the farmer finished with his harvest, those in need (particularly orphans, widows and strangers) would come and gather anything that had been left behind. By gathering the food themselves from the deserted fields, those in need were relieved of any embarrassment in having to ask for food.

With no fields today, one might wonder what a modern-day Jew can glean from these agricultural statutes, after all most of us buy food that is already packaged. We cannot go to the fields, but almost everyone can search their cupboards and find one or two items that go above and beyond our basic needs. While we cannot leave behind the gleanings of our fields, we can certainly “winnow” out and donate the excess of our supermarket “harvests.”

Copyright © 2011 National Jewish Outreach Program. All rights reserved.

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