Squeezing the Last Bit out of Winter

I know, I know, I keep writing about the weather, but this winter has been crazy.  It is March 17 and I haven’t used the air conditioning yet in my car.  Tonight’s low is supposed to be 4 ! degrees centigrade (39 degrees Fahrenheit for those of you living in the United States) and I had to turn on my heat to keep my fingers from freezing as I type.  (Last year, I first turned on the air conditioning in my car in February.)  Not only has it been really cold, but also the rain continues to bless us.  Thursday, Friday and Saturday experienced bouts, some prolonged, of POURING rain.

Anyway, I hope it is a blessing because the plants are beginning to flower.  Which plants?  Specifically those which make up the closed group of the Seven Species mentioned in the Bible – Barley, Wheat, Olives, Grapes, Figs, Dates, and Pomegranates.  I see now, in the course of my travels, the beauty of flowering barley and wheat.  Until a few years ago, I didn’t realize that wheat and barley flower.  Small white flowers appear from in between the kernels of grain, so delicate that touching them knocks them off the stalk. flowering wheat  Wheat benefits from a cold, northerly wind during the ripening.  The cold, the rain during the first period of ripening gives strength to the plant to fill the kernels.  This was noted in the Gemara (Baba Batra 147a).  On the other hand, dry hot winds from the south, scorch developing grains.

Olives flower a bit later than Barley and Wheat, but still during this time of year between Passover and Shavuot.  They depend on the hot, dry wind from the South to carry the pollen from one plant to another.  Cold, moist winds simply wash the pollen from the plant, removing any chance of pollination.

I love the interplay between the natural world and the spiritual world.  Since the Torah of Israel was given to the Children of Israel and meant to apply to the Land of Israel, these elements all meld together.  It is up to us to see the connections.  This Shabbat we read about  the placement of the furniture in the Mishkan which was erected in the desert.  Why does G-d care to spell out what side the various vessels used in the Mishkan would be on?  Is G-d an interior decorator?

And yet, the text from this week’s Torah reading tells us very clearly that the Shulchan (Table) on which would be placed the loaves of bread is to be in the North – wheat does best with North winds. The Menorah (candelabra) which was lit with pure olive oil is placed in the South.  G-d is not just giving the Children of Israel a lesson in crop management, He is giving a lesson that all is interconnected.  Your daily life of planting and harvesting crops is connected to your religious life.  Proper placement of the furniture, of your daily toils, will lead to spiritual blessing, just as weather in its proper time leads to abundance in your harvest.

The extended forecast calls for yet one more rain at the end of next week.  Farmers are already telling me that the harvests this year have been delayed.  We just pray that the rains, which so gloriously have filled this past winter, will come in their proper time during this transitional season to bring prosperity and spiritual harmony to all of Am Israel.

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