Cheating on Peret

Peah (7:3) | Yisrael Bankier | a year ago

The Mishnah (7:3) discusses the gift of peret, individual grapes that fall during harvest that must be left for the poor. The Mishnah explains that if the farmer places his basket at the base of the vine during harvest, then he is stealing from the poor and cites the following pasuk: "do not breach the border of the olim" (Mishlei 22). The derasha is based on reading the pasuk differently from how it is written. It is written "olam" (long standing border), yet we read it as "olim". One understanding is that it refer to refers to the olim -- those that came out of Egypt -- when it was agreed not to take advantage of the poor. Alternatively, out of respect for the poor, the pasuk is using opposite language. They have gone down in their fortunes yet the term olim, that suggests ascent, is used. One might ask, if it is indeed stealing, what is the need from the cited pasuk?

The Mishnah Rishona also addresses the necessity of the pasuk posing the following question. If the grapes are considered peret as they fall, then one has violated the prohibition of "you shall not take the peret of your vineyard". He suggests that it is from this pasuk and the derasha that reads the word as olim, that we learn that it is already considered peret before it reaches the ground. The Mishnah Rishona understands that olim suggests it is referring to this gift of peret and that it belongs to the poor even when it is above (olim) and not yet hit the ground.

Interestingly, the Gra (Shenot Eliyahu) understands from the Yerushalmi's conclusion that the grapes are only considered peret once a bunch falls to the ground and comes apart. Consequently, the Mishnah is referring to one that places a soft reed basket that will catch the grapes and prevent them from falling apart. Therefore, it is not really theft since it never became peret; he prevented it becoming the property of the poor. Consequently, the pasuk cited in our Mishnah is necessary to teach that the practice is nonetheless wrong.

The Tosfot Anshei Shem however notes that the Rash, Rosh and Bartenura understand the Yerushalmi differently and conclude that the grapes are considered peret as they fall. The Ridbaz (Yerushalmi 7:3, s.v. hada) notes that the fact that the Mishnah states that is gezel (theft) suggests that it is already the property of the poor as it falls. The Tosfot Anshei Shem therefore cites the Lechem Shamayim who explains that the Mishnah is dealing with an individual who is not intending to catch the peret, but rather placing the basket there for convenience while harvesting. Even though one is not intending to steal, one should not do so since it is possible that some peret will fall in.

The Derech Emuna (Tziyon Halacha 4:175) provides two answers. The first is that the prohibition of stealing is not violated since it is considered mamon shein lo tovin -- money that has no specific claimant. He has not stolen from any person; he has taken property that can be claimed by poor people. Also, with respect to the prohibition of taking peret, since he is not actively taking the peret, perhaps that prohibition also is not violated. Consequently, the Mishnah cites an additional pasuk to teach that the practice is still wrong.

Rav Chaim suggests another context in which the biblical prohibitions are not violated leaving a gap from the pasuk in Mishnah to fill. That would be if a worker is harvesting and not the vineyard's owner. It is not gezel since it is mamon shein lo tovin as explained above. Also, the worker is not collecting peret from his own field. Consequently, the prohibition of taken peret from one's vineyard is also not violated. The Mishnah therefore cites the pasuk in Mishlei, that finding such loopholes through which one takes advantage of the poor is contrary to the standard set at the genesis of our nation.

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