THE HARVEST CYCLE AND THE HOLIDAYS OF PESACH, SHAVUOTH AND SUCCOTH

Pesach is also called Hag Aviv (Spring Holiday), which marked the beginning of the barley harvest. The practice was to cut the first sheaves of barley the day before Pesach, and to bring an offering from this early harvest on the second day of the festival. Until this was brought, it was forbidden to eat from this new crop. This perhaps helps to explain the elimination of all old grain products in preparation for Pesach: we clear away the old to make way for the new; then for the week of Pesach we eat only matzah (made from a portion of last year's crop that was carefully protected all year from dampness and from contamination by leavening), and afterwards we may enjoy the new crop freely, in any form.

The correct time to cut wheat is fifty days after the barley is ripe. Therefore it was natural to count seven weeks of seven days, 49 days from the time of the barley harvest to the wheat harvest. We call this tradition the Counting of the Omer. In this period, the fierce struggle between the easterly and the westerly winds intensifies in Eretz Israel. The dry easterly winds on the one hand, and the westerly winds on the other, bearing clouds and the danger of sudden rains, can lead to sudden weather changes, affecting the field crops. Thus the 49 days of the Omer were counted with some degree of trepidation.

With Shavuoth's arrival, the weather stabilizes and the wheat harvest began--consequently the names Hag Hakatzir (Reaping Festival) and Hag Habikurim (Holiday of the First Fruits). Although, the farmer already knew the fate of the grain crops, there was no guarantee of the success of the harvest of the fruit that would grow in summer. People made a pilgrimage to the Temple to thank G-d for the wheat harvest and pray for a good summer harvest.

The Mishnah, in Tractate Bikkurim, describes Shavuoth pilgrimage to Temple: An ox, with gilded horns and an olive wreath, plus flutists and dancers led each procession of pilgrims carrying on their shoulders, baskets filled with wheat, dates and olives. Just outside of Jerusalem, the city's prominent citizens greeted the pilgrims with: “Our brothers, the men of such and such a place, you have come in peace,” beginning the official ceremony. Then the flutists led the procession to the Temple Courtyard, where the Levites sang: “I will exalt You, O G-d, for You have saved me and You have not rejoiced my enemies before me.”

With the basket still on the shoulder, the pilgrim read from the Torah: “I have told the Lord your G-d this day, that I have come to his land which the Lord swore to our fathers to give us. My father was a wandering Aramean and he went down to Egypt and he sojourned there and he became there a great, mighty and numerous people. And the Egyptians harmed us, and they afflicted us and they put hard labor upon us, and we cried out to the Lord, the G-d of our fathers and the Lord heard our voice, and the Lord took us from Egypt with a strong hand… and G-d brought us to this place, and G-d gave us this land, and a land flowing with milk an honey. And now, I bring the first fruits of the land which you have given me, O G-d. Afterward the pilgrim placed the bikkurim basket by the side of the altar, bowed and departed. Then the High Priest, acting on behalf of the people as a whole, presented before the altar the special Shavuot wave-offering – two loaves of bread, the first products of the Spring wheat harvest.

The tradition to eat dairy foods evolved because cows and goats have an abundance of milk in this season and during the wheat harvest it was unlikely that people would have had the time to prepare heavy meals. Therefore, during Shavuot the workers probably ate light meals, relying on dairy products

Succoth, also called Hag HaAsif (the Harvest Festival) marked the final agricultural harvest which occurred in the beginning of the autumn. Following the harvest people would celebrate their abundance and give thanks to God, the source of our sustenance and the bounty of the agricultural season. In ancient times, a good harvest bespoke survival for the winter. A small harvest spelled hunger; severe drought spelled famine. Since crops must be harvested quickly, once they ripen, farmers often built for themselves small temporary booths out in their fields so that they could take advantage of every minutes of daylight once the crops were ready to be picked.

Since on Sukkot the harvest cycle was completed, in ancient days those making pilgrimage to Jerusalem had no further worries about their crops and had no need to hurry back home. They could celebrate Sukkot in complete joy. This contrasts with the pilgrimage holidays of Passover and Shavuot. While both of those holidays also celebrate harvests, there were still crops to manage during those festivals.

SUMMARY OF THE HARVEST-PILGRIMAGE FESTIVALS

The Festival

The Season

The Biblical Source

Pesach

End of Winter/ start of spring

From such time as you begin to put the sickle to the corn (beginning of barley harvest) (Deuteronomy, 16:9)

Shavuot

End of spring/start of summer

First fruits of wheat harvest (beginning of wheat harvest) (Exodus, 34:22)

Sukkot Feast of Ingathering

End of summer/start of autumn

When you have gathered in your - labors from the field [Exodus, 23: 16] After you have gathered in your corn and your wine [Deuteronomy 16:1]



RETURN TO SYNAGOGUE ACTIVITIES

Internet sources for this page's information: www.everythingjewish.com; www.jewishgates.com; urj.org; scheinerman.net; www.jhom.com; and www.jafi.org.il