A Call for Constant Gardeners
The weather and other unforeseen interruptions have messed with our community calendar all year. For example, every time we scheduled the Religious School planting of the winter rye—our Omer—rain came (or whirlwind, if you like) and washed our plans away. Thus, the seeds were not sown in the fall as we traditionally do, right after Sukkot. Missing their chances, week after week, the seeds sat, cold and still, in a plastic sack on my desk. I knew the kids would have the chance to plant again next year, but it still weighed on me, the thought of a Pesac to Shavuot without our waving field of grain.
And then, this January, members of the glbtq havurah happened to gather here precisely between snowfalls. I begged their assistance and together we tilled the frozen ground (not easy). We added new soil, and, just as the snow literally started to float down once again, we sowed our community’s seeds and covered them, eyeing the sky for hungry birds.
Of course, I checked the little Omer patch several times a week since that morning, and at last was rewarded with sight of the first leafy blades pushing up through dirt and (yet more) snow. I was so excited I repotted some to use in our Equinox service. A thin tablecloth covered our Sun Wheel with faint Hebrew letters floating upwards and through, the rye stood proud and crooked as if once again pushing upwards through the snow. If you can fully enter into Jewish ritual every gesture, every moment becomes fecund with meaning. Sometimes it feels like a wild, Jew-Fi universe, with evil storms and heroic tiny stalks growing up to become a stairway to heaven. And then it becomes real, and the Omer does lift us step by step.
On Passover, we leave the narrow straights of Egypt together and count Omer step by step toward the Revelation at Shavuot. According to Jewish mystical traditions, the desert march is vertical as well as horizontal. Week by week we rise and evolve together, stepping from rung to rung, moving toward the Divine through personal growth and self-improvement. The Omer numbers and lifts our steps.
The necessary first step in this trek is Chesid, which means mercy or kindness. The question naturally arises, why is Chesid the first step, and not, perhaps a final goal? I believe the answer is this – if we are not kind to ourselves and each other, then we will never get any farther that this first step, just barely out of Mitzraim and slavery.
And so we learn: Freedom begins with deeds of loving kindness, made possible by seeds of winter rye planted by those who will step forward no matter how cold the day.