The Omer and the First Fruits: Shavuot in history and in the present
In: Proceedings of conference on Shavuot, Beit Berl College, Center for study, teaching and staging the holidays of Israel. Pp. 109-126, 1988
Rabbi Michael Graetz
Chapter 6 of Pirkei Avot begins as follows: “The sages expounded in the language of the Mishnah, praised be He who chose them and their teachings.” Without delving into an academic study of this sentence, it clear that there is something unusual about it. The author(s) of this chapter present arguments and ideas, but use the “language of the Mishnah,” i.e. the style of the Mishnah. It is possible to identify a specific text or article as being in a certain ‘language’ or ‘style;’ the text’s author adapts the content, styles and sometimes even the world view of the original text.
This paper is written in “the language of the Midrash.” In other words, the paper is not presented in the form of a standard academic study, but rather as a Midrashic analysis. My emphasis is not on the language of the Midrash, however, but rather on its forms and perspectives; for example, the assumption of biblical unity. This assumption posits that one must employ one’s imagination to identify the logic and signification which link texts that may have originally been quite different. The attempt here is to identify a unified thought in the various sources and derive a unified perspective out of them all.
The halakhic Midrash is similar. But, what then, is the difference between Midrash Aggada and Midrash Halakha? It seems to me that the difference is not in substance but rather in the degree of liberty taken with the texts. In the Halakhic Midrash imaginations runs less wild, the text is less forced and the interpretation of the words themselves is less farfetched. All of these qualities do exist to some extent in the Halakhic Midrash, but to a lesser degree than in the Midrash Aggada. Also Midrash Halakha relies more extensively on received traditions and less on the expositor’s own personal interpretations.
This article is written in ‘the language of halakhic Midrash.’ It sticks to the text and makes an effort to stay within the bounds of literal meaning. But it does contain Midrash, in the sense that it employs imagination in linking the interpretations of two separate texts which contain similar wording, similar contexts and the like. I believe that this is a good method of interpreting and presenting Jewish and biblical topics today. Why so?
My teacher, Rabbi Abraham Joshua Heschel wrote that once religion ignores the eternal existential questions at every moment, it becomes irrelevant, and this causes a crisis in religion. The main task of religious thinking is to reveal anew the very questions to which religion is meant to respond, and thus to develop in its adherents the quality of sensitivity towards the eternal existential questions which the concepts and practices of religion are an attempt to contend with. (cf. God in Search of Man, 1955, p. 3). In this article I attempt to use biblical texts that respond to certain existential questions in order to read and consider these questions and their answers, and thereby create a “Midrash” that also presents a new solution to a problem. I attempt to present not just the solutions, but also the questions.
Commandments contingent on the land
Tradition contains commandments knows as “commandments contingent on the land.” They include commandments regarding the Sabbatical year [shmita] and Jubilee year [yove]l, first fruits [bikurim], first sheaves [ omer], and the corner of the field [ pe’ah]. The topics we address here belong in this category. In general, the meaning of this term is ‘commandments contingent upon dwelling in the land of Israel.’ I would like to present here an additional insight into this term. The question is why are these commandments contingent on the land? If these are commandments for the benefit of mankind, why not enact them everywhere? Perhaps a deeper interpretation of the dependence upon ‘the land’ will answer these questions. We will focus on Leviticus 23:9-22 (Omer, first fruits, pe’ah and leket) and on Deuteronomy 26:1-15 (first fruits and tithes for the poor). We also examine Leviticus 25: 1-46 (Shmita and yovel, and the laws of redemption).
First, we must identify what is common to all these commandments in terms of the wording of the biblical text. Each commandment opens with a similar sentence: “when you have come into the land …” This similarity indicates a link between the texts. Indeed, a standard opening sentence signals that they belong to the same group.
There is an additional similarity between these texts: each segment begins with the worship of God – the expression of thanks to Him – and concludes with a commandment having to do with helping the less fortunate. The repetition of the same required actions also indicates a close link between the two acts. It seems to fix a principle that one cannot be grateful to God without helping others and vice versa. This formulation also reflects a certain perspective: we can deduce that, generally, the land is the means through which one is to perform these two acts. It is in this ethical sense, that the commandments are contingent upon the land! We will return to this point and elaborate on it below.
In Jewish tradition, Leviticus 23 is the key source regarding the holidays. It contains key details on holiday observances. With the exception of Passover, which is treated in detail in Exodus, there is very little information elsewhere in the bible regarding the traditions of various other holidays, other than the sacrifices.
The section opens with the aforementioned formula: “When you enter the land that I am giving you” and continues “and you reap its harvest, you shall bring the sheaf of the first fruits of your harvest to the priest” (v. 10). Clearly the impetus for this commandment is the land and harvest time. The word “omer” is the name of a unit of measurement of dry goods, and the first omer of the land’s harvest is presented to the priest. This resembles the commandment regarding the first fruits (bikkurim), but the first omer is not called bikkurim. The first omer refers only to “the sheaves of your first harvest (barley and wheat).” In the Bible, katsir (harvest) denotes only the harvest of grain; barley and wheat. We know that the barley harvest is the first harvest, around the time of Passover, while the wheat harvest begins a few weeks after Passover and continues until Shavuot (the Festival of Weeks, or Atzeret in the language of the Sages). Since the biblical text refers to the first harvest, and because of the proximity to Passover mentioned in the preceding verses, we can therefore deduce that the grain to be presented to the priest in this verse is the omer from the first barley harvest.
The priest raises the sheaves of barley and offers a specific sacrifice to mark the day. The day in question is “the day after the Sabbath” (11). The debate over the meaning of this expression is well-known, and each Jewish sect has interpreted “the day after the Sabbath” in its own way. Nonetheless, in our own Pharasaic Jewish tradition the term is understood to refer to the second day of Passover, i.e. the 16th of Nissan. For Rabbinic Jews, the “Sabbath” means the first day of Passover, and thus “the day after the Sabbath” is the second day of Passover. Those who think that it might be a stretch to interpret the word “Sabbath” as indicating a holiday, might wonder how the Sages made that link. Clearly, the interpretation is reasonable, but why did the Sages think it was essential in this context? The answer to this question is presented below, and is related to the word “omer.”
The final portion of this section of Leviticus is the injunction against eating “bread or parched grain or fresh ears” from the new crops up until the day that the omer is presented and the sacrifice is made. In Jewish tradition, this commandment is interpreted as an injunction against the “new,” meaning that the first fruits of the year may not be eaten until the day the omer is presented. Thus, for example, the matzoth eaten on the first day of Passover are made from the previous year’s grain. It is only on the second day of Passover, after the omer is presented, that one may eat matzoth made of grain from the new harvest. What is the point of this injunction? Why is it the presentation of the omer to the priest and its waving over the sacrifice that makes the new harvest permitted?
The answer to all our questions lies with the simple and prosaic word, “Omer.” This term first appears in Exodus 16, in the story of the manna in the desert. The Israelites complain that they have no bread. God promises to provide them with manna from heaven every day, in order to test their loyalty. The people are supposed to collect a daily ration per person, and on the sixth day, a double ration – one for Friday and one for the Sabbath, because the manna will not appear on the fields on the Sabbath. And what is the measure of the daily ration of manna that sustains a person? It is an omer! (Exodus 16: 18, 22, 33, 36). Moses commands Aaron to collect an omer of manna in a jar to be kept through the generations and shown to the people of Israel so they remember what God fed the Israelites in the desert. The final verse of this chapter explains precisely what an omer is – a tenth of an ephah, a large measure of grain. And the story notes that the Israelites ate of the manna for forty years, “until they came to a habitable land; they ate manna, until they came to the border of the land of Canaan” (35).
We now begin to understand the significance of the omer. It is more than a unit of measurement, but the term possesses historical and religious significance. The word omer is also a symbol of God’s munificence towards his people, and of the people’s duty to observe the Sabbath as part of their belief in God as the creator of the universe and ruler of nature. In other words, several important principles of faith emerge from this minor practical thing. There is, additionally, another historical dimension tied to the event that precipitates the end of the manna from heaven. In Exodus we learn that the manna ceased when the Israelites reached the “border of the land of Canaan,” and details of this event appear in a different source.
In Joshua 5:10-12, we have the details on the end of the manna. It is written there that the manna stopped after crossing the Jordan, and after the Israelites were circumcised in Gilgal. They immediately celebrated Passover, since they entered the land of Israel precisely on the same date they left Egypt forty years earlier! “On the day after the Passover, on that very day, they ate the produce of the land, unleavened cakes and parched grain. The manna ceased on the day they ate the produce of the land…” (11-12). On the day after the first day of Passover, i.e., on the second day of Passover, the manna ceased and the Israelites ate unleavened bread and dried grain from the land – the produce of the land of Israel!! This is the key to the traditional rabbinic interpretation of “the day after the Sabbath” as the second day of Passover. After forty years of eating manna, the cause of many complaints, the Israelites finally arrived in the Promised Land and tasted for the first time the produce of the land of Israel. This momentous event of settling in the land of Israel and tasting its grain for the first time is relived and reproduced each year through the ceremony of offering the omer. This also explains the interdiction against consuming new crops until the omer – the ritual prohibition attempts to relive that tasting of new crops after the manna ceased.
But why is this significant event connected to the measure of omer? All those years in the desert God sustained the Israelites with an omer of manna per person. Each Israelite survived through the grace of God, and then the great moment finally arrives; they cross the Jordan and can sustain themselves from the fruit of the land. In place of an omer of manna per capita, they can now work and produce an omer of grain to survive upon. The Israelites offer thanks to God for granting them the land, and thereby giving them the possibility of living independently. As thanks for sustaining them through desert, as well as for providing them with this economic freedom by giving them the means of producing bread, an omer is repaid with an omer. He bestowed upon us an omer of bread from heaven every day, and we give Him an omer of the product of our own labor as a symbol of our thanks for the land and the sustenance it provides. It is at this moment that the blessing over the bread was changed from “who delivers bread from heaven” to “who brings forth bread from the land,” thereby expressing man’s partnership with God in producing his daily bread. (compare BM 86b with Mishna Ber. 6:1) In case someone might think it is preferable not to work and instead depend on the grace of God, as in the desert, the omer ritual reminds us and reiterates for us the advantages of living a creative life of collaboration with God. In this sense, the omer also expresses mankind’s potential as accountable for its own existence in partnership with God.
The ceremony of presenting the omer, thus, is aimed at giving thanks to God for both the manna and the land of Israel. It is aimed at fostering a sense of gratitude for being given the land, beginning with the first day after Passover spent in the land of Israel and the first tasting of the fruit of the land.
First Fruits (bikurim)
Leviticus 23 goes on to enumerate additional commandments following the day the omer is presented. From that day, we are commanded to count seven weeks (Sabbaths), 49 days, and then on the 50th day to present “an offering of new grain to the Lord.” This offering is described in detail: “two loaves of bread as an elevation offering, each made of two-tenths of an ephah; they shall be of choice flour, baked with leaven, as first fruits to the Lord” (17). The first fruits offered to god on the 50th day following the second day of Passover (the day the omer is presented) are two loaves of leavened bread. Since this date falls at the same time as the end of the wheat harvest, and superior flour (solet) is specified, it is clear that “bread of the first fruits” (20) refers to wheat. If the omer is presented as thanks for the land at the beginning of the harvest, then “the bread of the first fruits” is given in thanks at the end of the harvest.
The symbolism here is telling: an omer of barley signifies the people of Israel in the early stages of settlement. They have just entered the land and tasted of its fruit, but they have not yet become a cohesive united people. They are not yet settled each in their estate. They must still make the land productive. They must work hard and struggle to realize God’s promise. The “bread of the first fruits,” in contrast, the product of the harvest labor and the basic sustenance of man, stands for the cohesive people settled in the land and, thus, the realization of the promise. The bread of the first fruits signifies the ideal of a society living on its land in equality – each family in its estate. Each family has its means of sustenance! This resembles the peace and rest of the Sabbath – perhaps also because two loaves of the bread of the first fruits are offered, thereby echoing the two portions of manna gathered in the desert on Friday in preparation for the Sabbath (Exodus 16: 22). The offering of the first fruits is, furthermore, related to the sabbatical year, shmita, and the jubilee year, yovel (Leviticus 25): Shmita and yovel also involve a cycle of seven times seven, with a celebration on the 50th, and they also express the ideal of an equal society with each family living on its estate. After all, on the yovel – the jubilee year – each estate returns to its original owners.
This interpretation is supported by the reading of Deuteronomy 26. This chapter is about first fruits in general. The ‘bread of the first fruits’ here is a particular case within the overall commandment regarding first fruits. Barley and wheat enjoy special mention in the presentation of first fruits because they are the basis of mankind’s physical existence, as well as the fundamental symbol of its spiritual existence, as detailed above. Deuteronomy 26 describes the presentation of first fruits and quotes the declaration that must be recited when presenting the first fruits to the priest. It is here that we find the famous section beginning with “A wandering Aramean was my ancestor…” (5-10), where the landowner who brings his first fruits recites a formula summarizing the history of the Israelites from Jacob’s descent to Egypt, through enslavement, and deliverance from Egypt. This is not the most important point, however. The conclusion, “and he brought us into this place and gave us this land, a land flowing with milk and honey. So now I bring the first of the fruits of the ground that you, Lord, have given me” (9-10). This declaration concludes with a thanks in the first person singular: “I bring the first fruits of the ground, that you, Lord, have given me,” as if I had just received the land and just enjoyed its first fruits. This is an attempt to create a historical identification with that first year in the land after the battles, when the Israelites each settled in their lands and could produce its fruits in peace and security.
This declaration is reminiscent of what the father tells his son while eating the Passover sacrifice: ‘It is because of what the Lord did for me when I came out of Egypt” (Exodus 13:8), a similar attempt to create a historical identification, as well as the feeling that this event is happening to me personally right now, as I perform the same action and ritual that they did. So, if the presentation of the omer recreates the first time Joshua and the Israelites ate from the fruit of the land, then the presentation of the bread of the first fruits on Shavuot recreates the first presentation of the fruit of the land after the people had unified and settled in their lands according to plan.
Here we see an attempt to express the ideals of living in the land of Israel. It is also an explanation of the “social” laws accompanying the worship of God. One of the ideals of living in the land of Israel is the equality of society. This ideal is also expressed in the book of Ruth, the book associated with Shavuot. Why did Naomi and her family descend to the land of Moav? Because hunger forced them to sell their land. The laws of the Torah stipulate that one of their relatives should have redeemed their land and returned it to them. But no one did that in this particular case. Thus the book of Ruth begins with the words, “In the days when the judges ruled,” because in the time of the Judges “each person did as he saw fit.” It was a period when the laws of the Torah were not observed. Boaz, who strictly observed the commandments of leket and pe’ah, is the story’s hero. It is because of his kindness to the poor and because of Ruth’s kindness to Naomi that the events unfold.
Giving thanks to God for the first fruits is certainly a commandment: “Honor the Lord with your substance and with the first fruits of all your produce” (Proverbs 3:9). Nonetheless, one is hard pressed to find a historical event in the bible, which the presenter of first fruits can specifically identify with. There is no clear source, such as the story of Joshua, for this practice. Perhaps the offering of the bread of the first fruits is an attempt to create the experience for celebrating the ‘arrival in the land of Israel.’ We have a holiday celebrating going out of Egypt, a holiday for the wandering in the desert, but there is no holiday which celebrates the entering and settling in land of Israel. This is, after all, an event no less important than the exodus from Egypt and wandering in the desert. After all, God also gave us the land. Some scholars believe that the term “Atzeret” indicates an understanding of the holiday as the culmination of Passover, just as Shemini Atzeret is the closing of Sukkot. Accordingly, this period begins by celebrating the exodus from Egypt and concludes with a celebration of entering the land of Israel.
Leket (gleanings) and Pe’ah (edge)
Thus far we have only dealt with half the material found in the sources. We have noted that the expression of thanks to God is accompanied by the commandment to help the needy. The passage on omer and first fruits in Leviticus 23 concludes with the verse: “When you reap the harvest of your land, you shall not reap to the very edges of your field, or gather the gleanings of your harvest; you shall leave them for the poor and for the alien: I am the Lord your God” (22). Clearly, this verse is attached to instructions on worship because of the timing of the harvest. Nonetheless, since all these commandments are phrased similarly, it is obvious that it is not just harvest time that is significant here. In order to understand the eternal existential questions at the bottom of all this, we must investigate the biblical view of the land and uncover why the land is the means through which both thanks and assistance to others are expressed.
There is an ambivalence regarding the Israelites’ relationship with the land of Israel in the biblical sources. On the one hand, the land is promised to us and we are allowed to expel its residents and take over their place. In biblical theology we are the scourge of God in punishing the seven nations of Canaan for their sins. This was already revealed to Abraham by God: “And they shall come back here in the fourth generation; for the iniquity of the Amorites is not yet complete” (Genesis 15:16). The wickedness of the Canaanites is taken for granted in the bible and, thus, the Israelites are presented as ‘God’s policeman’ charged with executing God’s sentence upon the Canaanites. On the other hand, the land of Israel is not promised to the Israelites unconditionally. They must behave justly and honestly and observe all of God’s commandments in order to continue to earn that right. Ultimately, the land is God’s land, and the Israelites are simply its caretakers: “The land shall not be sold in perpetuity, for the land is mine; with me you are but aliens and tenants” (Leviticus 25: 23). This understanding explains the commandment to return the land to its original owner in the jubilee year, as well as the commandment to redeem the land of a relative who was forced to sell it (ibid: 25).
This theological perspective is uniquely expressed at the end of the Kedoshim Torah portion: The Israelites are warned not to be like the wicked Canaanites. They are given a long list of laws which will keep Israelite society from behaving with Canaanite-like evil, as well as a long list of prohibitions that will contribute to their holiness (Leviticus 18-20). The explanation is “But you shall keep my statutes and my ordinances and commit none of these abominations, either the citizen or the alien who resides among you. For the inhabitants of the land, who were before you, committed all of these abominations, and the land became defiled. Otherwise the land will vomit you out for defiling it, as it vomited out the nation that was before you…” (Leviticus 18: 26-28). These sins defile the land and it spits out those who defile it with such abominations. It has vomited out the people who were there before you, and if you repeat their sins, you too will be vomited out.
The land is thus, a sort of touchstone for the moral healthiness of the nation living upon it. The means of measuring the right to live in the land is the land itself. Accordingly, exile is caused by the land – it banishes or vomits out the sinners. Since the two prescriptions, giving thanks to God for his graces and helping the needy, are both accomplished through the land, it becomes a touchstone. When one does not set aside the omer and the first fruits for God, the land seemingly knows this. The land appears to feel when one does not leave the edges of the field for those who are entitled to it, or when the field’s owner collects the gleanings rather than leaving them for the poor. The test of living in the land of Israel is perfection in the nation’s life, a perfection that encompasses the worship of God and social justice. The means for achieving this perfection is observing the commandments that are contingent on the land, i.e. contingent upon the proper and just use of the land! If you observe the commandments, the land is peaceful and blessed, if you don’t it is violent and vomits out its residents.
Existential questions and their solution
There are those who believe this imagery is overly simplistic. To me though, it is beautiful, and those who ponder it can through it develop moral and ethical sensitivity. I attempt to elaborate on the ideas and principles underlying this imagery below.
The land belongs to God, and it is He alone who grants it to the people of Israel. Since the land is a gift, God has the moral right to demand that the Israelites share their gift with the needy. What does this resemble? If I give a child a gift of chocolate, I can demand that he share it with his siblings. On the one hand, it is a gift and it is his. On the other hand, the giver has also set conditions on how the gift is to be used. If I give a child a bicycle, I have the right to set the condition that she take care of it and doesn’t break it, otherwise I might take the gift back. This is why God decreed a sabbatical year for the land.
The principles at stake here are ownership of the land, set against the moral imperative to share my land with the needy. My control over a certain territory, and the labor I have invested in the land, give me rights over it – it is mine. On the other side is the requirement to share the fruits of my labor with the needy; a requirement that was set by God and is grounded in the understanding that my ownership is neither absolute nor exclusive. The land was given to me as a gift from the outset, and it can be taken away from me if I defile it (ruin it). The land is both mine and not mine at the same time. Thus the Israelites’ ownership is limited by God, the one true owner of the land. If the land is mine, I am allowed to work it and use it as I please. If the land isn’t mine, I am obligated to take care of it, not destroy it, and care about the rights of others who have been dispossessed from their land – the poor or relatives who lost their property. If I exercise my rights to the extreme, I become overly dominating, a tyrant. If I exaggerate my obligations, I may err on the side of total renunciation and self-hatred. The Torah requires of us a balance between the two.
How does one develop this sense of balance? How can one develop a sense of responsibility to care for the needy in those who rule over their estates with confidence and power? Only by developing a feeling of ‘gratitude’ for what they have. Only those who are truly grateful for all they have can sincerely give to others. The final expression of this gratitude is the presentation of first fruits, but it is the outcome of a gradual development. The commandment to offer the first fruits is an expression of joy at what I have achieved. Everyone wants to achieve more; for some this desire is accompanied by aggression. The offering of the first fruits is aimed at restraining that aggression and greediness. There is a natural inclination to celebrate the first fruits of one’s labor, and the Torah comes and requires that we dedicate those first fruits to the House of God. Man is asked to rejoice in what he has, not from greed for more, and not out of an acceptance of fate, but rather out of true happiness at his achievements. Such joy elicits praise. Only those who are truly happy can whole heartedly praise. Thus, praising God is the ultimate pleasure. And if we are praising God for what we have, we must give thanks. The giving of thanks is the ultimate expression of pleasure and praise. A man who offers his first fruits with pleasure at the fruits of his labor, praises God for making it possible and expresses his deepest gratitude. Some people may present their first fruits because they understand this commandment as their duty towards God, a duty which must be fulfilled in order to receive more next year. The first fruits are a tool to be used in servicing their greed. This has been called ‘idolatry’ in the Jewish tradition, but those who present their first fruits out of joy and gratitude will sympathize and want to help society’s needy. It is in this spirit that the presentation of first fruits is closely linked with the commandments of pe’ah and leket.
Worksheets for teaching this subject
The discussion above provides direction that can be employed in teaching this subject. In terms of content, two human virtues are presented: ‘gratitude’ and ‘grace/benevolence,’ in the sense of assistance and sensitivity to the needs of others. These are the two primary virtues society depends upon to exist. Therefore, these are the commandments through which the people of Israel’s worthiness of dwelling in the land are tested. We must educate for the realization of these virtues.
For the purpose of teaching, we must define ‘first fruits’ somewhat differently than usual. We have already noted that ‘first fruits’ means ‘the first fruits of my labor or creation.’ If I merely read the biblical text, which describes “the first fruits of the land,” but I don’t live an agricultural society, it doesn’t mean much to me. During biblical times there was nothing else, but today ‘first fruits’ could be something entirely different.
I have tried to unpack the ethical and theological perspective at the bottom of these formal commandments of the Torah. Once we understand this complex of ideas, we can legitimately ‘translate’ that traditional ethical perspective into specific alternative actions, which support and express those same values and perspectives. We must translate an idea and a value reflecting the reality of one period into the reality of another period. Certainly, some might object to this approach. And it is true that any translation runs the risk of distorting or missing the point. Undoubtedly there are risks to this approach, but this has been the way of Judaism throughout history. The Midrash itself, after all, is a ‘translation’ from one media into another, the unpacking and transformation of ideas and values from one period into those of another. We have no alternative, since to cease the Midrashic process would mean to atrophy.
In order to assist students in their cognitive and theoretical analysis of the above views and values, I prepared three different worksheets dealing with the ‘commandments contingent on the land’ we have discussed in this paper. We divided the class into three groups and each group studied its assigned chapter and answered the attached questions. The final question for each group dealt with a situation from daily reality. At the end, the groups came together and taught each other about the materials they had studied using the worksheets. The session was concluded with a discussion of contemporary issues.
The Project – First fruits and pe’ah combined
I organized this project in collaboration with a student who had been studying the topic in order to teach it in 7th grade classes. At the same time that her class had been studying Shavuot, first fruits, etc. academically, the students were enlisted in the beautification of the school. They were asked to bring tires, paint them and hang them as decorations on the school walls, as well as place them in the schoolyard both for playing and for decoration. Gradually the study of first fruits and pe’ah merged with the tire project.
The teacher explained that our labor was the painting of the tires, and that the idea of giving the fruits of our labor and helping others should be linked. We suggested that they give part of the first fruits of their labor with the tires to a local school for the deaf which had no decorations or playing facilities in their schoolyard. This would be both a presentation of first fruits and a fulfillment of the commandment “you shall not reap to the very edges of your field,” which means that you should not consume everything you have yourself, but rather give part of it to the less fortunate.
The students were receptive to the idea. They were, first, prepared for the encounter with deaf children: We brought in a teacher who is deaf himself and he showed our students the various devices the deaf use. Afterwards, our students spent the whole day at the school for the deaf. The deaf children presented a play for us, and our students performed a play for them. We visited their classrooms and played together. Finally, we all worked together installing the tires in the schoolyard.
In the concluding discussion of the project, many of our students said they felt they had received more from the deaf children than they had themselves given to them. This is the feeling that every person should have after presenting the first fruits, giving thanks for the land, or leaving the edges of his field (pe’ah) for the poor. One action responds to both the commandment of pe’ah and the commandment of first fruits, and this is how, I believe, they should be combined.