The command of shikhecha, which the Torah presents in Parashat Ki-Teitzei (24:19), requires leaving for the poor agricultural produce that was forgotten in the field during the collection of harvested produce. In discussing the application of this law to fruit trees, the Mishna in Masekhet Pei’a (7:2) describes the case of rows of olive trees that are separated by rectangular-shaped arrangements of plants. The Mishna states that if the farmer forgot to collect the olives of middle tree in the middle row, that tree does not qualify as shikhecha, and it is permissible to return to it and collect its olives. Most commentators (including Rash Mi-Shantz and Tiferet Yisrael) explain this ruling as an example of the law established in the previous Mishna that a tree situated in a unique location does not become shikhecha. Due to its special stature of importance, such a tree cannot be considered to have been “forgotten” even if it was passed by when the orchard’s fruits were collected. Accordingly, the middle tree in the arrangement described above is not subject to shikhecha due to its unique location, situated right in the middle of a special formation of trees.
The Rambam, however, explains this halakha differently, explaining that this tree is not considered “forgotten” since it was missed only because it was concealed. The shikhecha requirement applies to readily accessible produce that was, for whatever reason, overlooked during the collection. In this instance, however, the olive tree was concealed by the surrounding vegetation, and thus its fruit was simply never seen, and not overlooked.
Rav Yehuda Leib Ginsburg, in his Mussar Ha-mishna, suggests that this halakha perhaps symbolically expresses the common phenomenon of people who seem “forgotten” because they are overshadowed by others. Many remarkable, accomplished individuals fail to receive the recognition and respect they rightfully deserve as a result of their being “concealed” by others in their fields who, for whatever reason, are more visible and noticeable. As in the case of the hidden olive tree, these individuals are no less important or accomplished than others, and they are “forgotten” only because of their “concealment.” This halakha, then, reminds us that public recognition is not a yardstick by which anyone can measure his or her worth, or the significance of his or her achievements. The fact that somebody is not widely known, recognized or respected in no way undermines the extent of that person’s importance and greatness, or the extent to which such a person should be admired by those who know him or her – including that individual himself or herself.