Amidst the Torah’s discussion of the festivals in Parashat Emor, it introduces a number of mitzvot relevant to the harvest season. It commands offering the first portion of newly-harvested barley in the early spring as part of a special sacrifice – the korban ha-omer – brought on the second day of Pesach (23:10-13), and then requires offering two loaves of bread made from newly-harvested wheat seven weeks later, on Shavuot (23:16-21). The Torah concludes this section by reiterating the commands presented earlier in Sefer Vayikra (19:9) to leave certain portions of one’s agricultural fields for the poor – one corner of the field, and the gleanings that drop during harvesting.
Rashi, based on Torat Kohanim, offers an explanation for why these mandatory gifts to the poor are reiterated here, in the context of the festivals and the special sacrifices offered on these occasions. He writes that whoever leaves these gifts to the poor is considered “as though he built the Temple and offered his sacrifices in it.”
What is unique about these particular mitzvot – the charitable gifts left to the poor from one’s fields and orchards – that they are equated with the sacrifices in the Beit Ha-mikdash?
The Lubavitcher Rebbe (Bei’urei Ha-Chumash, originally in Likutei Sichot, vol. 17), amidst a lengthier discussion carefully analyzing the differences between Rashi’s comments and their source in Torat Kohanim, explains by noting Rashi’s very next remarks. Rashi observes that the Torah does not command one to “give” these portions of his fields to the poor, but rather to “leave” them (“ta’azov otam”), implying that one may not give to any particular needy person. He must passively allow all needy people equal access to this produce, without giving it to any particular person he decides he wishes to help. This provision, the Rebbe explains, lends these mitzvot a unique quality that is not shared by other forms of charity. Normally, a person is entitled to choose to whom he makes charitable donations, and in this way, he derives a degree of benefit from his charity. He has the freedom to choose to assist those people whom he desires to befriend, whom he happens to like and whose admiration and gratitude he seeks to earn. When it comes to the portions of the field left for the poor, however, there is no such benefit, as the owner is required to allow any needy person to come along and help himself to this produce. This is the unique quality of these gifts that sets them apart from other forms of charity, and which makes them so significant.
The Rebbe further suggests (in footnote 76) that this might explain why Rashi equates this mitzva with the privilege of building the Beit Ha-mikdash. Building the Beit Ha-mikdash is a service that one provides for the entire nation, rather than for any particular person or group of people within the nation, facilitating the service of God by everybody, not by any specific segment of the population. And herein lies the point of comparison between the Beit Ha-mikdash and the mandatory charitable portions of agricultural fields. Both signify the great merit of assisting all Am Yisrael equally, without singling out or showing preference to any particular person or type of people. They express the value and importance of not only extending oneself to help other people, but of extending oneself to help anybody in need – including people whom one may not particularly like, who are outside his familiar socioeconomic circle, or who hold views and opinions considerably different from his own. This is the level of kindness and generosity to which we should strive, the level where we are driven and motivated to offer assistance to all our fellow Jews in need, regardless of who they are.