The Instinct to Hoard
Even when times are tough, we still must give.
When Times Are Tough
Yet the inverse question--how do we remember our obligations to the poor during times of limited resources?--is perhaps even more important. How can we respond when the needs of the poor are great but the resources of the owner of the field are few? This question is especially poignant for us today, in the midst of our financial crisis. Estimates for decline in philanthropy this year demonstrate that when times are hard, most people are less sensitive, rather than more, to those who have it harder. We are all instinctually feeling, I need it, so I can’t give it away.
But during times of economic crisis, the poor--especially people living in the Global South--are among the hardest hit. The cost of food and fuel are rising and job loss is rampant. Estimates say “the global economic crisis will cause an additional 22 children to die per hour, throughout all of 2009.” When the Global South needs financial support more than ever, people all over the world are holding back, rather than giving.
The Torah’s instructions for harvesting are there to subvert this instinct to hoard during a recession. The law states, “You shall not reap all the way to the edges of your field.” It does not clarify whether the farmer had a good or a bad crop yield. Thus, whether I have earned a lot or a little this year, I am still required to give enough for those who have less than I do. We are reminded of this in the laws of the Mishneh Torah which state that even a poor person is expected to give tzedakah (Laws of Gifts to the Poor 7:5).
Our challenge is to remember our obligation to the poor always: in times of plenty and times of need. The corners of our field do not belong to us; they never did. We cannot glean all the way to the edges of the field even if the produce yield is low. Let us struggle to rise above the natural reaction to hoard out of pride or fear, and rather, sanctify our harvests through generosity.
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