When you reap the harvest of your land, you shall not reap to the very edges of your field, or gather the gleanings of your harvest. You shall not strip your vineyard bare, or gather the fallen grapes of your vineyard; you shall leave them for the poor and the alien: I am the Lord your God.
Leviticus 19:9-10 (NRSV)
The ancient Hebrew legal system had a way of providing food for the poor. Farmers were forbidden from harvesting everything in their fields. The edges of the field (e.g. more easily accessible) were to be left unharvested. In addition, if grapes or grain fell to the ground during harvest they were to be left there. Those who were poor could gather food from the fields.
The thing I find fascinating about this ancient tax and welfare system is that the poor still had to work to gather the fruit or grains themselves. If they were incapable of harvesting themselves, then they had to work to arrange for someone else to do it for them. Once harvested, at least some of that which was gathered still had to be prepared. It wasn’t a “free” handout. It required some effort of the recipient.
This morning I’m thinking about giving and gleaning. Having been raised in the midwest and steeped in the Protestant work ethic, I’ve always known that the value of work goes beyond the paycheck. When you work for what you have you earn self-respect and self-esteem. There are always exceptional situations, but I have always thought it foolish to base societal rules on exceptional situations. In general, I believe there is something subtly and insidiously damaging to a soul when it continuously reaps without having to glean.