In ancient days, Israelites had a distinct agricultural practice that set them apart from the nations. “When you reap the harvest of your land, moreover, you shall not reap to the very corners of your field nor gather the gleaning of your harvest; you are to leave them for the needy and the alien. I am the LORD your God.” (Lev 23:22).
The idea of this agricultural charity is simple – Israelites were not to harvest everything but rather leave the edges of their fields so that members of their community in need could gather the remaining crops and feed themselves. Curiously, God did not specify how much of one’s land should remain unharvested. That was left up to the individual’s conscience. Israel is commanded to share their harvest blessings with both their needy brethren and foreigners leaving among them.
The Hebrew word for the “corner” of the field in this verse is פֵּאָה (peah). It can mean an “edge,” “border,” “boundary,” “side,” or “corner.” It can even mean “forehead” or “temple” because they are considered the “edge of one’s face”. You may be familiar with the Jewish cultural practice of not shaving or cutting the פֵּאֹת (peot) “corners or edges of the beard.” This may seem like a very strange commandment. Why would God care how the Israelites styled their hair (Lev 19:27)?
Just as God expected his people to leave some produce on the corners of their fields for the poor, God also wanted Israel to be constantly reminded of this social responsibility. Their obligation to care for the neediest in their community should have been so ingrained in their lives that they would wear a reminder of this obligation on their faces. In this way, one’s identity (and one’s appearance) is inseparably tied to God’s will for His people.