Shabbat Shalom: A harvest of love

May 1, 2020

Dear JEWISHcolorado family,
 
Beth Joseph congregation was a wonderful community. I can remember sitting in the sanctuary, surrounded by my parents, grandparents, aunts, uncles, and community members whose relationships with my family went back decades. I loved learning from the rabbis and teachers and listening to the cantors. But even as I basked in the love and warmth of that community, I was struck by the disconnect between the contemporary religious experience and what was described in the Bible. What might life have been like in ancient Israel? What would the fields have looked like though the seasons? What were the sounds and smells of daily, religious life?

Those mental meanderings and the stories I heard of Israel sparked a curiosity that led me to Kibbutz Beit Hashita, where I lived for a year when I was a junior in high school. Ironically, it was on the secular kibbutz where the spiritual meaning of our Jewish traditions came alive for me. 

Around the time of Passover, everyone gathered in the fields for first cutting of the barley harvest. Musicians played classical and modern Israeli melodies, and the young kibbutzniks whirled and clapped. And in the fields, the elders danced to a more ancient choreography, their scythes keeping time, as they cut swaths of barley from the fields.  

What was so profound was not merely the artistry and conviction of their ritual act but the love and work that led to that moment. It had begun the previous fall, when barley seeds were planted on the hills. It continued over the months that followed, nurtured by light rains and human hands alike. Over time, the dark brown hills grew greener and greener and then golden, a perfect reflection of the partnership between God and man in the ever-unfolding process of creation.

This week’s Torah portion, Achrei-Mot/Kedoshim, includes what have been called the two great commandments to love. The first is “Love your neighbor as yourself.” The second, “Love [the stranger] as yourself, for you were strangers in Egypt.” For me, the biblical edicts harken back to those barley sheaves and their harvesters. There can be no harvest without community. There can be no community without love. And there can be no love without acceptance. These things are the essence of creation and of life.

In Israel, in those fields, surrounded by my newly chosen community, I learned that all things, the material and the spiritual, flow from love.

May this Shabbat bring us all much peace and love.

—Rabbi Jay Strear