In Plowing Time and in Harvest

Good Harvest

Good Harvest by Evan Leeson, on Flickr

Hi there! You haven’t seen much of me lately, because we are deeply into the High Holy Day craziness. But we are almost done – only two more days of Yom Tov to go at the end of this week, and then we are done until the spring. Hannukah is a breeze by comparison – and we get to sit back and watch our non-Jewish friends go crazy in December …

One reason I’ve not been online much, aside from the actual holidays when all our electronics are turned off, is that I’ve been doing a boatload of Torah reading. Our nonagenarian Torah reader finally retired, and I’m doing this almost full time. The only thing I’m not doing is the 7:30 readings – I’ve got three kids to get off to school.

I do read in the mornings on weekends and statutory holidays, like tomorrow, and on any other day when the kids don’t have school. Thank G-d for the Jewish Day School.

My eldest is learning to deal with the university that doesn’t close for Jewish holidays, but he is courageously talking with professors, rescheduling tests and assignments and catching up on the material. I did the same when I was getting my teaching degree and later when I was working as a teacher, but I was in my forties, not eighteen years old. If he can do it, don’t let anybody tell you it can’t be done.

Thinking about his experience, I was particularly struck by a reading I did this past Shabbat, the intermediate Shabbat of Sukkot. It’s a rather bizarre passage from Exodus, in which Moshe has a very intimate conversation with G-d, including an experience where he gets to see G-d’s “hindparts”, with G-d’s “hand” protecting him from seeing G-d’s “face”, which no mortal can see and live. You don’t need to be Maimonides to think that this can’t be meant literally … but I digress.

Later in the reading, as part of the covenant between G-d and the people, we are given the following injunction:

שֵׁשֶׁת יָמִים תַּעֲבֹד, וּבַיּוֹם הַשְּׁבִיעִי תִּשְׁבֹּת; בֶּחָרִישׁ וּבַקָּצִיר, תִּשְׁבֹּת. 21
Six days thou shalt work, but on the seventh day thou shalt rest; in plowing time and in harvest thou shalt rest.

It’s a late harvest in Manitoba right now, and the farmers are desperately trying to bring in everything they possibly can before the real freeze arrives. We’ve had a few cold nights, but mostly it’s been unseasonably warm, which we need, because the growing season was quite wet and cold to begin with.

The farmers are working night and day, as much as they can, and I have not heard of any of them stopping for anything short of total exhaustion.

Similarly, most Jewish students in university or public school are not stopping, either. I ascribe this largely to a local Jewish culture that developed at a time when religious diversity was not recognised, discrimination was rife and people’s livelihoods were at stake. It is still not easy to take this kind of religious stand, but it is no longer as difficult as it was. Still, one has to make the choice to make that effort.

It’s a different way of thinking about the question whether the Universe is a friendly place, isn’t it? If you have faith in the intrinsic goodness of life, you can choose to stop and rest during harvest and plowing, and be confident that you can catch up on missed classes. It’s an abundance mentality – whatever is missed now will be made up later.

I am very proud of my son for making the effort and for having that faith and confidence. I am very pleased that the Torah reading, set centuries before Jews ever went to university, reminds us that the sanctity of Shabbat and the holidays mandated by the Torah transcends the immediate need to bring in the harvest or stay on top of classes. I believe that the short-term pain is very much worth the long-term gain of leading a meaningful life.

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