Ki Teitzei–Don’t Sweat the Small Stuff

When you reap your harvest in your field and forget a sheaf in the field, you shall not go back to get it; it shall be left for the stranger, the orphan, and the widow.   (Deut. 24:19)

In the Bible, the “stranger, the orphan, and the widow” are a classic triad of needy social groups.   The forgotten sheaf, as well the leftover olives and grapes(Deut. 24:20-22), are to be left in the field for their benefit.  But in studying these laws, the Rabbis pointed to an inner trait beyond whatever amelioration of poverty this practice served.  The true intent of this law, they asserted, was the molding of character:  people should not snatch at every last piece of produce and profit.   I think of a zone of calm and ease (ideally) surrounding us; our clutches should not extend all the way to the edge of our personal space.

Graspingness is also a misguided way to approach the past.  Heshbon Ha-nefesh addresses this from the standpoint of one who, having experienced misfortune, is “beset with vain regret [and] . . . meaningless remorse, making statements like, ‘Had I only not entered that business, this would have never occurred. Had I only stayed in that place for another hour, I would not have ended up here.'”  While intelligence and forethought are given to us “as our protection . . . God did not create us all as prophets [and] . . . did not permit us to be overly smart, as the verse states: ‘You shall be straightforward with God, your Lord.’ (Deut. 18:13).”  Or, in the language of this verse, we don’t go back to retrieve the forgotten sheaves of past choices, but move on, taking our setbacks in stride.


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