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   by Jacob Solomon

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You must not take the garment of a widow of a pledge (24:17) is followed by:
You shall remember that you were a slave in Egypt… therefore I command you to do this thing (24:18)

Soon afterwards:

When you reap the harvest in your field and you forget one unit of bundled produce, you may not return for it; it is to be left for the proselyte, the orphan, and the widow… When you beat your olive tree, you shall not completely strip it… When you harvest your vineyard, you shall not take the very last grapes… they are for the proselyte, the orphan, and the widow are also followed by You shall remember that you were a slave in Egypt… therefore I command you to do this thing (24:19-22).

Out of all the mitzvot in this Parasha, these are the only two occasions where they are accompanied with: 'You shall remember that you were a slave in Egypt'. These special connections may be explained by examining closely the specific demands they place on the person.

Common to these mitzvot is that they support the poor without hurting the rich. In cost-benefit terms, it's actually cheaper to pull in 99% of your produce and leave behind the odds and ends, than to go hunting over every little square centimeter of ground to get in the lot. Remember, time is money. And the Torah-ordained harvest gifts to the poor are precisely that - they all prevent the landowner from falling into the trap of too much movement for too little gain. In short, they're the crumbs that fall from the rich man's table. Deeply appreciated by the poor, but hardly missed by the rich.

It was this lesson that the Israelites learnt when they worked as slaves for their Egyptian masters - bearing in mind that Egypt at that time was one of the leading world civilizations. Being a slave means being owned. That involves coming into contact with affluence (those who can afford to own), and being able to observe the habits of well-established and wealthy people. They know how to use their working hours to the greatest profit…

In other words, the text implies that 'your experiences as slaves in Egypt should teach you that leaving bits and pieces behind at the end of the harvest is actually good business practice. And with that in mind, you should not begrudge the needy this form of support, because in terms of time and energy, leaving those items benefits you as well…'

Written by Jacob Solomon. Tel 02 673 7998. E-mail: for any points you wish to raise and/or to join those that receive this Parasha sheet every week.

Parashiot from the First, Second, and Third Series may be viewed on the Shema Yisrael web-site:

Also by Jacob Solomon:
From the Prophets on the Haftara

Test Yourself - Questions and Answers


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