Feeding the Poor in a Dignifying Way


In this text study we'll examine the relationship between our sacred obligations to help the poor and marginalized while preserving the dignity of those we're helping.  Our Jewish obligations to the poor extend far beyond attending to their physical needs.  We are also asked to consider the manner in which we provide aid and how our help impacts the people who are on the receiving end.  

Leviticus 19:9-10

Translation Original
[9] 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.  [10] You shall not pick your vineyard bare, or gather the fallen fruit of your vineyard; you shall leave them for the poor and the stranger: I [The Eternal] am your God.  [NPJS Translation]
ט. וּבְקֻצְרְכֶם אֶת קְצִיר אַרְצְכֶם לֹא תְכַלֶּה פְּאַת שָׂדְךָ לִקְצֹר וְלֶקֶט קְצִירְךָ לֹא תְלַקֵּט: י. וְכַרְמְךָ לֹא תְעוֹלֵל וּפֶרֶט כַּרְמְךָ לֹא תְלַקֵּט לֶעָנִי וְלַגֵּר תַּעֲזֹב אֹתָם אֲנִי יְ־הֹוָ־ה אֱלֹהֵיכֶם :

Suggested Discussion Questions

1. Why are we instructed to leave the corners, the gleanings, and the fallen fruit in the field?

2.  What are the rights and responsibilities laid out in this text?
3. What are the advantages and disadvantages of leaving the food in the field versus collecting the food and distributing it ourselves?


Deuteronomy 24:19-22

Translation Original
[19] When you reap the harvest in your field and overlook a sheaf in the field, do not turn back to get it; it shall go to the stranger, the orphan, and the widow -- in order that Adonai your God may bless you in all your undertakings.  [20]When you beat down the fruit of your olive trees, do not go over them again; that shall go to the stranger, the orphan, and the widow.  [21] When you gather the grapes of your vineyard, do not pick it over again; that shall go to the stranger, the orphan, and the widow.  [22] Always remember that you were a slave in the land of Egypt; therefore do I enjoin you to observe this commandment. [JPS translation edited for gender-neutrality]
כִּי תִקְצֹר קְצִירְךָ בְשָׂדֶךָ וְשָׁכַחְתָּ עֹמֶר בַּשָּׂדֶה לֹא תָשׁוּב לְקַחְתּוֹ לַגֵּר לַיָּתוֹם וְלָאַלְמָנָה יִהְיֶה לְמַעַן יְבָרֶכְךָ ה' אֱלֹהֶיךָ בְּכֹל מַעֲשֵׂה יָדֶיךָ: כִּי תַחְבֹּט זֵיתְךָ לֹא תְפַאֵר אַחֲרֶיךָ לַגֵּר לַיָּתוֹם וְלָאַלְמָנָה יִהְיֶה: כִּי תִבְצֹר כַּרְמְךָ לֹא תְעוֹלֵל אַחֲרֶיךָ לַגֵּר לַיָּתוֹם וְלָאַלְמָנָה יִהְיֶה: וְזָכַרְתָּ כִּי עֶבֶד הָיִיתָ בְּאֶרֶץ מִצְרָיִם עַל כֵּן אָנֹכִי מְצַוְּךָ לַעֲשׂוֹת אֶת הַדָּבָר הַזֶּה:

Suggested Discussion Questions

1. Who is this text speaking to?  Who is it speaking about?
2. In what ways does this text protect the farm laborers?
3. What is the reason we are asked to provide for the poor and marginalized?

4.  How does our Jewish narrative of slavery impact our obligation to respond to suffering?

5.  Both slavery and poverty reduce an individual's dignity.  In what ways does this text attempt to restore dignity?

Deuteronomy 10:18-19

Translation Original
[18] [God] upholds the cause of the orphan and the widow, and befriends the stranger, providing him/her with food and clothing.  [19] -- You too must befriend the stranger, for you were strangers in the land of Egypt. [JPS translation edited for gender-neutrality]

עֹשֶׂה מִשְׁפַּט יָתוֹם וְאַלְמָנָה וְאֹהֵב גֵּר לָתֶת לוֹ לֶחֶם וְשִׂמְלָה: וַאֲהַבְתֶּם אֶת הַגֵּר כִּי גֵרִים הֱיִיתֶם בְּאֶרֶץ מִצְרָיִם:

Suggested Discussion Questions

1. What do the widow, the orphan, and the stranger all have in common?
2. Who else might we include in that "group" in our world today?
3. This text asks us to follow God's example.  What is the example God is setting here?  How does the obligation to uphold someone's cause and befriend them impact our sense of obligation?

4.  What does it teach us about the relationship between giving to those in need and preserving or diminishing their dignity while doing it?

Leviticus 25:35

Translation Original
[35] If your kin, being in straits, comes under your authority, and are held by you as though resident aliens, let them live by your side. [NPJS Translation]
וְכִי יָמוּךְ אָחִיךָ וּמָטָה יָדוֹ עִמָּךְ וְהֶחֱזַקְתָּ בּוֹ גֵּר וְתוֹשָׁב וָחַי עִמָּךְ:

Suggested Discussion Questions

1. What is the situation that's being described here?
2. What are the obligations of the person providing aid?
3. In what ways the text obligate us to preserve the dignity of the people we're helping?