Parshat Ki Teitzei has more mitzvot (74) than any other parsha in the Torah. According to the Ohr HaChayim and other commentators, the fact that we read this series of parshiyot in the weeks before Rosh Hashana is not incidental; each one has an important message to convey regarding repentance and the High Holy Days. This week I would like to concentrate on one of the many mitzvot in the parsha, one that is easily overlooked but that contains a monumental life lesson.
Torah is mostly concerned with remembering: Remembering our Exodus from Egypt, remembering the merit of our forefathers, and at the end of our parsha – remembering what Amalek did to us. Memory is an integral feature of our faith because it grounds us by constantly reminding us from whence we came and where we are headed.
There is, however, one mitzvah that is the antithesis of remembering, and that is, “When you reap your harvest from your field and you forget a sheaf of wheat behind in the field, do not return to collect it, it shall be for the convert, orphan and widow, so that Hashem your G-d will bless you in everything that you do” (Devarim 24:19).
The mitzvah of shichecha (forgetting) is one of the five mitzvot concerning gifts given to the poor from our harvested crops (Leket, Pe’ah. Shichecha, Peret, Olelot). In this mitzvah, we are commanded that if we forget a sheaf of wheat in our field after the harvest, we must not return to retrieve it, but rather leave it for the less fortunate.
Shichecha is unique amongst the positive mitzvot in that it may not be performed with kavanah (intention). As we know, ideally mitzvot require kavanah, but if someone performs a mitzvah without kavanah, then after they fact (b’dieved), they have performed the mitzvah. The only mitzvah in the Torah for which having kavanah disqualifies it is shichecha. The very premise upon which shichecha is based is that a person unintentionally forgets a sheaf of wheat in his field. If someone has prior kavanah to forget the sheaf, then it is not “forgetting” but is premeditated. The only way to fulfill the mitzvah is if someone truly and honestly forgot the sheaf and then suddenly remembers. In that case the verse commands us not to return to retrieve it but to leave it for the poor.
What is so special about this mitzvah and what is its relevance specifically to Ki Teitzei?
Of the five gifts to the poor, the mitzvah of shichecha is the highest level. The other four are indeed tzedaka, but they are all premeditated, and this lowers their worth. When a person leaves pe’ah in the corner of his field, he does so knowingly and even willingly, wanting to give to the poor as Hashem commanded. But it is impossible that this mitzvah can be performed 100 percent altruistically. The very fact that the person knows he is doing a mitzvah and getting a reward for it in the World to Come, whether he does it for that reason or not, lessens its value. It is still a valuable mitzvah, but it cannot match the mitzvah of shichecha.
The only way someone can do the mitzvah of shichecha is without the intention of performing a mitzvah – and so the possibility of having an ulterior motive is zero. He forgot the sheaf in the field unintentionally. He got home and counted the sheaves and noticed he had only 99 sheaves and not 100. Hashem says to him, “By forgetting, you performed the mitzvah of tzedaka in its highest form. Leave it for an underprivileged person to take and I will reward you in everything you do.” By unintentionally forgetting the sheaf, the owner in effect erased any possible yetzer hara element in performing the mitzvah.
Yes, most of the Torah is about remembering, but forgetting also has great power. Teshuva is all about forgetting. You first have to remember that you committed a sin and sincerely regret it, but to truly do teshuva, you have to undergo a process of forgetting and “unlearning.” You have to unlearn the bad habits that you acquired that led you to commit that sin. This is often a gradual and arduous process that we struggle with for most of our lives.
This is the awesome power of forgetting, the incredible gift of teshuva that Hashem gave us, and the special month of Elul where we have a hotline to Hashem, and the yetzer hara is weakened. We now have three weeks until Rosh Hashana to grab this opportunity and start the year with a clean slate – to forget the old year and all its hardships and herald the new year with all its blessings
Parshat HaShavua Trivia Question: Why does the verse say, “When you (singular) go out to wage war on your enemies (plural) (Devarim 21:10)? Both should be in the plural!
Answer to Last Week’s Trivia Question: The verse says, “Justice, justice you shall pursue (Devarim 16:20). Why does it repeat the word “justice?” We have a similar repetition in Vayikra (19:36) referring to just measurements – eifat tzedek and hin tzedek. The Midrash Sifra asks, why does the Torah (seemingly extraneously) mention the hin measure when a hin measure is included in the eifa measure? The answer given is that the word hin has a double meaning; it also means “yes.” The Midrash says that the repetition refers to the “yes” (positive) mitzvot as well as to the negative mitzvot – that both should be performed justly.