Shavuot on the Farm
Last night marked the beginning of the two day festival of Shavuot. Like so many Jewish holidays, Shavuot combines Biblical injunction with agricultural celebration: it is both the commemoration of the Revelation at Sinai, during which the Torah was given to the Jewish people, and it is the Festival of the First Fruits, during which the blessings of the first harvest of spring are celebrated. Traditionally, it is a time to rejoice in the many gifts of God–towards our spiritual and our physical sustenance. Homes and synagogues are decorated with branches and flowers; devout Jews stay up all night studying Torah; we eat foods made with milk and honey, both because of the abundance of dairy at this time of year, and because of a passage in the Song of Song: “Knowledge of the Torah is like milk and honey under the tongue.”
On our farm, the house is bedecked with fragrant lilacs and green branches we’ve cleared from the woods. Tonight, we’re making chévre blintzes drizzled with rhubarb sauce for a sweet supper (we’ll post photos and recipes tomorrow!). We’ve just planted sorrel in the garden, and if it looks leafy enough, we’ll harvest some to make schav borscht, a sour, vivid green soup enriched with eggs and sour cream and eaten cold. In our delight at every new leaf that emerges from our soil, we remember that we are blessed.
While looking for Shavuot craft ideas for our girls, I stumbled upon this passage, from Israel Kasovich’s out-of-print 1929 memoir, The Days of Our Years: Personal and General Reminiscence (1859-1929). His words inspire us at the holiday, connecting our homestead to millennia of Jewish farmers who’ve come before us. With them, Karl and I are proud to have our heads in the Torah and our hands in the earth.
Our first holiday on the farm was Shavuot. All around us was a sea of verdure and everything was in bloom. I told my children that this holiday commemorates the giving of the Torah to the children of Israel at Sinai–a Torah which teaches us to live in fair and brotherly terms with our fellowmen; and who could do this so well as the farmer with his unique mode of life? I described to them how our ancestors, the Jewish farmers of Palestine, used to go to Jerusalem for Shavuot, bearing the fairest fruits as offerings to the Temple; how the hills of Judea would resound with the sweet Hebrew songs of the brave, proud Jewish farmers; and how the priests and leading men of Jerusalem would come out to meet their brothers, whose labor fed the whole nation, and escort them with great pomp to the Temple. And I related to them how, when I was a little boy and went on the eve of Shavuot to other men’s fields to pluck some blades of grass and twigs with which to decorate our house for the holiday, gentile peasant boys threw stones and set their dogs at me. And now we were living in a free country among our own green fields and woods, and I was proud to hold our Torah in one hand and a plow in the other.