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It's the Small Things That Count(Yalkut Lekach Tov)
Parshas Emor contains an entire section regarding the Yomim Tovim: Pesach, Sefiras Ha'omer, Shavu'os, Rosh Hashana, Yom Kippur, and Sukkos. However there is one possuk that seems out of place:
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When you reap the harvest of your Land, you shall not completely remove the corner of your field during your harvesting, and you shall not gather up the gleanings of your harvest. [Rather,] you shall leave these for the poor person and for the stranger. I am the Lord, your God. (Vayikra 23:22)
This problem bothered Rashi, and he quotes Chazal who present an explanation: Said R. Avdimi bar R. Yosef: Why did Scripture place [this agricultural prohibition] in the midst of the festival [laws], Pesach and Shavu'os on one side, Rosh Hashanah, Yom Kippur, and Sukkos on the other? [In order] to teach you that whoever gives gleanings, the forgotten sheaf and the corner of the field to the poor person [in a] proper [manner], is considered as though he built the Temple and brought his sacrifices within it. (Sifra Emor 13:12)
So now we understand. The Torah wanted to magnify the importance of the mitzvah of giving to a poor person. Therefore, this mitzvah was put into the middle of the parsha of the Festivals when everyone was going up to the Beis Hamikdash to offer the Festival sacrifices.
But this raises a further question. Why is this mitzvah so important that it equals building the Beis Hamikdash and bringing Sacrificial offerings?
Rav Moshe Miller (Shiur Le'Yom HaShabbos) offers an explanation. The gemara Yevamos describes the procedure for conversion to Judaism. When a gentile comes to become a ger we first try to dissuade him in order to determine that his intentions to convert are pure. Therefore we tell him, "You should know. The Jews suffer terribly from the nations. They incessantly hound and persecute us." If he responds, "Yes, I know, and I'm really not worthy of being a Jew," then we accept him and we inform him a few severe mitzvos and a few light mitzvos. The gemara gives leket, shichacha, and peah, as examples of light mitzvos. But now we must understand why are these mitzvos singled out. True, they are very "light." All you have to do is leave over 2 or 3 stalks of wheat in the field for the poor person to gather. But what connection does this have to fundamental Jewish principles which have to be imparted to the potential convert? Why is it placed next to the harshest mitzvos whose violation incurs Kares or Heavenly mortal retribution?
The answer lies in the question. A person is judged by the small things.
The gemara in Avoda Zara tells us about R. Chanina ben Teradion who made public gatherings to teach Torah during the Roman oppression. Once, R. Yosi ben Kisma fell ill and R. Chanina ben Teradion came to pay a sick call. R. Yosi said to R. Chanina, "why do you gather people publically when the Romans forbid this? This is mortal danger!"
"Heaven should have mercy," was his reply.
R. Yosi asked, "How can you rely on a miracle and say Heaven should have mercy? Weren't we taught that we aren't allowed to rely on miracles? I would be surprised if they don't burn you with your sefer Torah in the fire!"
R. Chanina didn't ask about this terrible prediction. Instead he asked an entirely different question. "Is there any chance that I will get Olam Haba?"
R. Yosi looked at him and queried, "What sort of incident came into your hand." Did you ever have the opportunity of performing a mitzvah requiring extreme self-sacrifice and a severe ordeal?
"Yes," answered R. Chanina. "Once I set aside a sum of money for my Purim seuda, and another sum for Matonos L'Evyonim. I made a mistake and the two monies got mixed up and I didn't know which was which. In order to get out of doubt I gave it all away to the poor."
R. Yosi answered him, "If so, you most definitely are destined for Olam Haba!"
Why did R. Yosi have to hunt for a good deed to determine if R. Chanina was destined for Olam Haba? Wasn't his self-sacrifice for harbotzas Torah enough? He was putting his life in danger teaching Torah publically!
Secondly, what was so important about such a seemingly insignificant action of being liberal and giving some more money to tzeddaka. Why should such a thing be worthy of determining his Olam Haba?
We must understand the relationship between mitzvos and Olam Haba. The mishna in Makos says, "R. Chanina ben Akashia said, Hakadosh Baruch Hu wanted to make Yisrael worthy, therefore he multiplied to them Torah and mitzvos." Why did Hakadosh Baruch Hu have to give Klal Yisroel so much Torah and Mitzvos in order that they merit Olam Haba? Couldn't just a few mitzvos have sufficed?
The Rambam in his Perush to the Mishna explains that it is one of the basic tenets of Judaism that when a person performs one of the 613 mitzvos absolutely properly with no extraneous personal motives, but rather performs the mitzvah totally for the sake of the mitzvah and out of love for Hashem, then he merits Olam Haba. Therefore R. Chanina taught us that the Torah contains many, many mitzvos. It is almost impossible that at least once in his lifetime a Jew will perform at least one of them perfectly and with pure intentions. This mitzvah will be his ticket to Olam Haba.
The Rambam is telling us that the way to the Next World is through the performance of at least one mitzvah perfectly, with no ulterior motive. Purely for the sake of Heaven. Therefore Hakadosh Baruch Hu gave us so many mitzvos to guarantee that everyone has the opportunity to gain entry into Olam Haba.
The Rambam proves his point from the above incident with R. Chanina ben Teradion. When he asked if he has a portion in the World to Come, R. Yosi asked him about some mitzvah that he performed. He was asking, "Did you ever perform a mitzvah totally "lishma." R. Chanina answered, yes. He had once gone above and beyond his duty of tzedaka and given away money that he himself needed. He had absolutely no ulterior motive. There was no personal gain. It was totally lishmah. R. Yosi answered, if so, you definitely are destined for Olam Haba. You performed tzedaka elegantly, with no expectation of any self-aggrandizement.
With this we can understand the dialogue between R. Yosi and R. Chanina. R. Yosi gave no special consideration to R. Chanina's great self-sacrifice of Harbotzas Torah under such a severe threat of death. In spite of the magnitude of his courageous act, the very fact of its public prominence allowed the potential danger that a miniscule thought of self-glorification had crept in to spoil its perfection. However, by such a minor quiet and private action of giving tzedaka, there was absolutely no publicity and no honor. This small perfect action, totally for the sake of Heaven, was R. Chanina's entry ticket into Olam Haba.
And therefore, when we have the potential convert before us, we inform him of one of the most important tenets of Judaism which is embodied in the seemingly innocuous mitzvah of leket, shichacha, and peah. He should know that he now has to get used to conceding and waiving his personal privileges. This is a part of his test if he is worthy of joining the Jewish religion. A Jew is tested on the small things. And this is why leket, shichacha, and peah are mentioned in the middle of the parsha of the Festivals. Everyone is scrupulous about chometz and matza - very important mitzvos indeed. Not violating Yom Tov is basic to Judaism, more so not to desecrate the holiest of holidays - Yom Kippur. But don't forget the small mitzvah. Remember the poor person and don't forget to give him something. Because that is Judaism - it's the small things that count.
Rabbi Eliezer Parkoff
Yeshiva Gedolah Medrash Chaim
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