May 7, 2020
Parashat Emor tells of holiday celebrations as they will be observed once the Children of Israel are settled in their land. Among the rituals described is inception of the Omer, the seven weeks between grain harvests, barley at Passover-time and wheat at Shavuoth. On the second day of Passover the first omer (meaning “sheaf “) of barley was to be cut and brought to the Temple, “elevated in the presence of Adonai.”
The harvest festivals were established so that the People would step back, contemplate the work they’d done in partnership with God, and be present in a moment of appreciation before moving on to the next task.
Midrash expands our collective imagining of the Israelite grain harvest: On the day before Pesach, emissaries of the High Court would go out, and tie barley, as yet rooted in the earth, into bundles, to make it easier to cut. All the inhabitants of the towns assembled at the field, so that the first sheaf, the sheaf to be offered to God, might be harvested in great celebration. Then, as soon as it became dark, the one assigned to reap the barley called out: “Has the sun set?” And the assembled shouted, “Yes!” “Has the sun set?” “Yes!” “Has the sun set?” “Yes!” Three times. And the emissary of the High Court continued: “Shall I reap it with this sickle?” “Yes!” “Shall I reap it with this sickle?” “Yes!” “Shall I reap it with this sickle?” “Yes!” “Into this basket?” “Yes!” “Into this basket?” “Yes!” Three times; everything three times. “Into this basket?” “REAP!”
And the barley was reaped. Then they brought the omer of barley to the Temple and the rituals of singeing it with fire, airing it with wind, milling it fine and making an offering of it began.
I’m struck by the give and take between leaders and community, the dialogic process of checking in, conferring, on the edge of action. “Is it time?” “Is the time right?” “Shall we do it this way?” “What should our protocol be?” “Can we raise a unified voice?” I notice that the task is not completed in one step, rather, a leader prepares the sheaves by bundling them – a proposal, perhaps – but leaves the bundle rooted to the earth until he checks again before cutting the stalks.
Today, the RAV (the Rabbinical Association of Vancouver) met to discuss how the new relaxation of guidelines for gathering in BC will affect potential reopening of synagogues for tefilah. A task force was formed amongst the clergy to imagine what protocols will need to be in place if we were to gather in person, a proposal to be evaluated by Vancouver Coastal Health. In this context, the Midrashic description, above, seems an apt reminder of communal process and of Or Shalom’s commitment to thoughtful preparation, consultation, consideration of multiple needs and perspectives, our commitment to check and re-check with one another before acting. In coming days and weeks, we will begin to explore our own response to the possibility of new freedoms, our leadership reaching out to gather the thoughts of our community.
For now, as did the Israelites reaping their harvest, let’s pause to give thanks for reaching this moment of achievement, having participated in flattening the curve of viral infection.