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Enlarge Your Vision and Feed the Hungry

After several courses at our Passover seder, including matzah ball soup, chicken, brisket, tzimmes, various vegetables, and of course many glasses of wine, dessert was finally served. And then after that quintessential Passover sponge cake, we still found room for a few macaroons, jelly rings and candied fruit slices. What a feast! It seemed fitting for a king or queen.

That is of course by design. When crafting the rituals for our seders the rabbis looked toward the lavish meals of the Greeks and Romans. They thought to themselves, “This is how free people eat. They recline. They are served. They dip their foods. This is how we should celebrate our feast of freedom.”

I think of this lavishness, and yes, its overindulgence, when reading this week’s portion. It contains a list of all the holidays. Shabbat leads the list. Then comes Passover, Shavuot, Rosh Hashanah, Yom Kippur and finally Sukkot. (The Torah does not mention our beloved Hanukkah or even Purim because the events these holidays commemorate had not yet occurred.)

Sandwiched in between the instructions about marking Shavuot’s wheat harvest and Rosh Hashanah’s sounding of the shofar, is a commandment that appears out of place. The Torah states: “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 Adonai am your God.” (Leviticus 23)

Not only does this commandment appear out of nowhere but it is repeated almost word for word from last week’s portion. I want to shout: “Did you think I already forgot this mitzvah or that my attention span is that short?” I want to retort, “My field of view, and in particular the horizon of my compassion is not that limited?” Or is it?

All those sumptuous desserts, and the wonderful company of family and friends, can obscure our peripheral vision. The poor and the stranger are cast aside. While the holidays elevate our lives, they can also diminish our sensitivities. The Torah exclaims, “Don’t let your celebrations blind you to the needs of others.” Don’t forget those who are not invited to our tables. Don’t forget the hungry.

The edges of our fields belong to them. Not every morsel of food is ours for the taking. Allow others to gather what we mistakenly label as leftovers. Leave the gleanings for others. Years ago, the organization Mazon: A Jewish Response to Hunger was founded.

It was predicated on the idea that our holidays, and celebrations present us with two competing mitzvahs. On the one hand, we are supposed to celebrate our holidays with food and festivities. We are intended to rejoice at our simchas. And yet, on the other hand, we are commanded to remember those less fortunate than ourselves and even more importantly, help them find the nourishment and sustenance all require.

How does Mazon suggest we accomplish these seemingly competing goals? Tithe what we spend on our celebrations’ food and make a donation to organizations such as Mazon who then distribute funds to soup kitchens, food pantries and the like. Although we are not feeding the hungry directly, although we are not leaving the edges of our plates for the poor and the stranger, we are enabling Mazon to do this in our behalf.

By all means, celebrate! And by all means, always remember that others are not worrying about if they ate too many macaroons, but instead how they are going to afford this evening’s meal. They are asking, “Will my family’s stomachs growl from hunger this evening? How will I find some food tomorrow morning?”

Take up the Torah’s command. Leave the gleanings! Enlarge your vision. Widen your circle of compassion.