You shall count seven weeks
“You shall count seven weeks, Begin to count the seven weeks from the time the sickle is first put to the standing grain. Then you shall keep the Feast of Weeks” (Deuteronomy 16:9-10).
It seems as though the Jewish holidays, the three pilgrimage festivals (Sukkot, Passover, and Shavuot), were not derived from the pages of the Bible, but rather sprang from our land, grew in our fields, and were gathered into our bread. Nature has filled them with content. These holidays not only breathe the atmosphere of our fields; the fruit of our land glorified them. Nature and the holiday are one, and within them prevails a wonderful merging of creative joy and renewal – G-d, man and nature are revealed in all their splendor. This is a merging that nature delivers to us, and the completeness of divine creation prevails within it.
Nisan is a spring month, and the holiday of spring is celebrated in it. The dawn welcomes you in a blue silence; in the fields, a prayer for growth for every shoot and plant embedded in the green fields; in the field of grain, more flowers bloom like a flame on a green background. The gardens bloom and blossom; from the roadside groves a perfume-like scent of blossoming, these are the citrus trees in bloom – the scent of spring – “The flowers appear on the earth.”
Green sheaves quavering in the wind at dusk, when the reapers hands touch the edge of the field – “When you come into the land that I give you and reap its harvest, you shall bring the sheaf of the first fruits of your harvest to the priest.”; bundles and bundles of new grain.
It now appears that since the holiday has been sanctified, spring is at its peak. This is not the case in our country; the holiday of spring ends it. For spring in our land is in the winter; between one rain and another the sun come out purified and cleansed, its golden rays warm and caress the green fields. Spring lies within the winter.
The day after the counting of the Omer begins, you are welcomed by a face wind; the sharav (heat wave) heralds that summer has come. The days are now numbered, wheat fields blight-stricken. Wilting and yellow have become widespread. Fields of grain turn gold, burdened with sheaves, heads bent as if in prayer – awaiting the harvest.
There are days of harvest in which sickle and scythe can be seen as in ancient times, when the harvest took weeks. The holiday of spring touched the Shavuot holiday; farmers passed the days with bated, until they gathered the fruits of their labor to the threshing floor and the Shavuot holiday came. It looked then as if the pages of the Book of Ruth were spread over the reapers’ fields.
Ruth was discovered in the fields of Bethlehem; Biblical charm leads the young Moabite girl after the reapers, walking and gathering and repeating to herself – “Your people will be my people and your God my God.” Our fields – her fields that filled the desires of her soul, she found her salvation in the granary... A support and bosom for her love...
Now as then the grain is ripening, full sheaves bending their heads expecting the hands of the reaper to come... The combine advances at a gallop, devouring fields of wheat; finds the seeds and emits the hay. It is followed by the bale press that turns the hay into quickly collected bales. The few stubble fields in the Galilee (most agricultural land in Galilee is fruit groves or stubble) are abandoned, anticipating the thickets.
The shepherd and his flock are not to be seen yet. In ancient times, shepherds would lead their herds in the stubble fields, and the sheep would feast on the leftover, forgotten wheat and at the edges... At dusk, light and shadows play hide and seek in the mountains; the flute is plays a gentle tune accompanying a dying day in crimson sunset. It is now time to return to the pen, milking and a night’s rest for both sheep and shepherd. This pastoral picture is now gone from the Galilean landscape.
But the Shavuot festival is reminiscent of ancient times. In the month of Sivan, summer is at its peak. The farmers bring the first fruits of their land. The fruits of our toil beautify the stage of the bikkurim (first fruits), the Seven Species, and other kinds of fruit. Our crops decorate the festival.
Our forefather saw this as the finest of festivals. Not just because it is the holiday of the giving of the Torah, but rather the ease of it. Because as opposed to Passover, when you may eat only Matzah, on this holiday you may eat what you want. And, as opposed to Succot, you may also eat where you want. But mainly, you may eat whatever you want – both dairy and meat products; and no waiting six hours between eating of meat and milk...
A glimmer of this remains with us still, as milk foods adorn our table on this holiday.
Once the Bikkurim festival has passed, long days lie ahead, labor-filled days, wearisome for the farmer. The trees are laden with fruit. The days between the Bikkurim festival (Shavuot) and the harvest festival (Succot) are fatiguing. The gardens look weary, branches of trees bend under the load of fruit, the fruit of the vineyards ripens, awaiting the harvester’s hands.
The field crop farmer anticipates the holiday of the harvest, when he releases his fields from the blessed load of their fruits – “Celebrate the Festival of Tabernacles for seven days, after you have gathered the produce of your threshing floor and your winery...”
Thus the splendor of Israel is restored, with the Jewish holidays celebrated on our land.