In the middle of the Torah’s discussion of the laws of the festivals, the Torah itself appears to digress and speak of the unrelated topic of leaving the corners of the field for the poor person. While this is an important law in itself, and one that speaks of compassion, social responsibility and equality, and concern for the welfare of others, it is out of place among the laws of counting the Omer and keeping the festivals.
“These are the festivals of God that you shall declare in their times. In the first month, on the fourteenth day in the late afternoon, it is Pesach.
You shall count for yourselves, from the day after the festival, from the day that you brought the Omer offering, seven weeks. Until the day after the end of the seven weeks, you shall count fifty days, then you shall offer a sacrifice from the new grain to God. That day shall be a holy time, you shall do no work.
When you glean the produce of your land you shall not glean the corners of the field and do not pick up individual stalks that have fallen. You must leave them for the poor and for the stranger, I am God” (Vayikra 23)
The Torah tells us about the festivals and immediately after the laws regarding Shavuot we are told to watch out for the poor people, to leave them the corners of the field and the individual stalks.
There is a deep message here about Shavuot and the Torah in general.
On Shavuot there is a custom to stay up all night learning Torah in preparation for receiving the Torah. Shavuot is the day that we not only recall that the Torah was once given on this day, but that we actually re-receive the Torah, every single year. Indeed the choice of Haftarah is telling, it is taken from the book of Yechezkel and tells of an awesome prophecy that the prophet Yechezkel saw, in which he met the image of God Himself.
Shavuot is a day of spirituality, of Divine worship, of elevation.
One could mistakenly assume that the purpose of the Torah is, therefore, to give us religious experiences of a miraculous nature. The Torah itself tells us otherwise. On Shavuot we are to be concerned with the plight of the needy and the stranger in our midst. The Torah should not remove us from the world, on the contrary, it should show us how to inject Divinity into our everyday lives, into the way we plow our fields, and run our businesses.
Therefore the Torah concludes the laws of Shavuot with the laws of caring for the poor. And concludes both of these laws with the words “I am God.” God appears in the tremendous apparitions of Yechezkel, and He also is evident in the most minute details of how we treat the poor. God appeared to us on Sinai, but He is also concerned that we should find Him in the corners of the field and in the individual stalks of wheat.
Religious experience is important, but it is often a solo event, it works for the individual, but not for an entire nation. When the Torah translates Divinity from Sinai to everyday life, the Torah becomes relevant to the entire nation. Because even the simple folk, who find it difficult to comprehend the awesome nature of the God who appeared to Yechezkel, can still relate to the God who cares for the poor and needy.
The Torah should not be relegated to the ranks of the mighty, nor should it be confined to the workings of the Temple, or the synagogue. The Torah has to be relevant to all works of life, to the life that exists outside the walls of the Houses of Religion, the life of the field.