Ki Tetse’

When you enter another’s vineyard, you may eat as many grapes as you want, until you are full, but you must not put any in your vessel. – Deuteronomy 23:25

Moses instructs the people to love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your might (Deut 6:5). We repeat this commandment whenever we recite the Shema. How does this come about? One way is through the observance of mitzvot related to Shabbat, holidays, lifecycle and other rituals. The Torah also teaches that love of God is cultivated and expressed through our love of others and, specifically, by avoiding of any action which may detract from another’s well-being.

A traveler, worker, neighbor or anyone else who is hungry may eat from someone else’s vineyard (Deut 23:25) or field of grain (Deut 23:26) until they are full, but taking more is prohibited. This limitation preserves the owner’s food supply and possible source of livelihood. As He fed them the finest wheat (Ps 81:17), so too a person with a productive vineyard or field may not worsen another’s hunger.

This commandment is as important for us as it was for our ancestors. When we have the means to provide immediate relief, we cannot turn away from those who are suffering. When we are the ones in need, we may not abuse the generosity of others. Its underlying principles, recognition of our inter-dependence and the mutuality of obligations in our relationships with others, have even more profound implications.

As we approach the Yamim Noraim (High Holidays), we can include along with our preparations of honey cakes and other seasonal baking an honest accounting of where we have cultivated and expressed love through acts of justice, integrity, equity, philanthropy, and generosity this year and where we have fallen short; what we hope to continue and what we need to change in the year to come.

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