Mishnat Hashavua'—Peah 2:6

Does it matter exactly how you give food to the poor?

Rabbi Shimon of Mizpah once sowed his field in the presence of Rabban Gamliel. They then went up to the chamber of hewn stones [in the Temple, where the Sanhedrin met] and asked [whether a field sown with two types of wheat requires that two corners of the field be left for the poor, or only one]. Nachum the scribe said, “I have [the answer] from Rabbi Miasha, who heard from his father, who heard from the pairs [of early rabbis], who heard from the prophets that it is the law going back to Moses at Sinai regarding one who sows his field with two types of wheat: if he reaps the entire field at one time, then he leaves one corner; if he reaps at two times, then he must leave two corners.”

Comment:

The Torah requires of the Israelite farmer when harvesting his crops to leave the “corner” of his field for the poor (Leviticus 19:9-10; ). Our Mishnah shows that even in Temple times there was significant confusion about the proper method for fulfilling the mitzvah of Peah. It claims that even a minor detail such as this was expounded by Moses and faithfully transmitted as oral law for over a millennium.

Questions for discussion:

  1. Why is so much effort put into transmitting and clarifying this seemingly minor detail of the law? Couldn’t the rabbis have simply erred on the side of caution by leaving two corners unharvested?
  2. In our day, is there an economic equivalent to leaving the corner of the “field” for the poor? Is there a benefit to donating the actual fruit of one’s labor rather than a cash equivalent?