The Torah in Parashat Kedoshim (19:9-10) introduces the command to leave certain portions of the produce that one grows for the poor. These portions are pei’a – the corner of the field; leket – sheaves of grain that fall during harvesting; oleilot – grapes in a vineyard that never form into a proper cluster; and peret – small grapes that do not develop properly. In Sefer Devarim (24:19), the Torah also adds the law of shikhecha, which requires leaving for the poor sheaves which had been forgotten during the harvest.
As a general rule, the owner of the field or vineyard is not permitted to distribute these portions to people in need. As opposed to other forms of charity, regarding which one has the freedom to choose particular individuals in need whom to help, these gifts must be left for the poor to come and take by themselves. The Mishna in Masekhet Pei’a (4:1) makes an exception in the case of a dalit – a hanging vine – and a palm tree. It would be too dangerous to allow the poor to climb to pick the fruits of these trees, and so the owner is responsible for harvesting the fruit and distributing it to the needy. Rabbi Shimon maintained that this applies also to almond trees.
Torat Kohanim infers this law from the word “katzir” (“harvest”) used by the Torah in this context. This term generally refers to the harvest of stalks of grain, which, in Torat Kohanim’s words, “ha-katan moshel bo ka-gadol” – are equally accessible to tall and short people. Stalks of grain, as opposed to fruit, are cut directly from the ground, and can thus be easily accessed by all, regardless of their height. Therefore, the command of “ta’azov” – that these portions must be left for the poor to come and take – does not apply to produce which cannot be equally accessed by people of all heights. The portions of such produce must be harvested by the orchard’s owner and distributed among the poor.
The Talmud Yerushalmi (Pei’a 4:1) brings a different view, focusing on the word “otam” (“them”), which can be understood as imposing a limitation on the scope of the requirement of “ta’azov.” This opinion concluded that this word excludes produce which would be dangerous for the needy to access, and so the owner must distribute it to them.
Rav Yaakov Tzvi Mecklenberg, in his Ha-ketav Ve-ha-kabbala, notes that this halakha might also stem from the two different usages of the verb a.z.v. Normally, this term denotes “leaving” or “abandoning.” In some instances, however, it can be used to mean “help,” as in the command in Parashat Shemot (23:5), “azov ta’azov imo,” which requires assisting one’s friend unload the cargo from his animal. Rav Mecklenberg cites also a verse from Sefer Nechemya (3:8) which uses the word “va-ya’azvu” in reference to laborers who helped build the wall of Jerusalem. Accordingly, Rav Mecklenberg writes, the command “ta’azov” in the context of the mandatory gifts to the poor implies both that one must “leave” the required portions for the needy, and also that one must “assist” them by distributing to them those portions which would be dangerous for them to have to access themselves.