Voices from the field

Leket: Then and Now

Megillat Ruth (מְגִלַּת רוּת, “Scroll of Ruth”) is traditionally read on Shavuot. It talks of a family: Avimelech, Naomi, and their two sons, Machlon and Kilyon. They leave the Land of Israel when famine strikes and settle in the Land of Moab. Tragedy strikes and Elimelech dies. His two sons marry local women, Orpah and Ruth, yet sadly, both the sons die, too. Naomi decides there is nothing left there for her, and heads back to Israel with her two daughters-in-law. As Naomi has nothing to offer them, she tries to convince Orpah and Ruth to return to their families and not to come back with her. At first, they refuse and accompany Naomi on her way. Naomi asks again and after many tears, Orpah decides to go home. A third time Naomi presses Ruth to return, yet she answers, “Wherever you go, I will go, wherever you stay I will stay, your people are my people and your G-d is my G-d…” (Ruth 1:16) Realizing her determination, Naomi allows Ruth to come back to Israel with her. They arrive back in time for the Barley Harvest Festival (Yom HaKatzir, another name for Shavuot - click for additional names for Shavuot and their meaning).

Leket (לֶקֶט, “gleaning”) was one of two important agricultural laws allowing for the poor of the community to benefit from the harvest. Leket refers to the harvesting of grains: if one or two stalks fell to the ground when being reaped, they had to be left there. Those in need could then gather up these stalks and make use of them. Additionally, Pe’ah (פֵּאָה, “corner”), means that farmers could not harvest one corner of their field, which was left for the poor to harvest instead. As Naomi finds herself in a state of poverty, she asks Ruth to go and glean in the fields of Boaz (a family member). The megillah continues with Boaz ensuring that Ruth had plenty of grain from the harvest of his field. He goes on to marry her and have children, who in turn have their own children.In fact, the great grandson of Boaz and Ruth is King David.

It is easy to ignore this megillah as so much of it seems outdated. What we can consider, though, is how this is relevant to us. How are we helping those less fortunate than ourselves and is there a modern spin we can put on all this?

Leket might once have been the name of an agricultural, biblical commandment; Today it is widely known as Leket Israel, the largest food bank in Israel (click here for Leket Israel's Hebrew-language site):