First Fruits & Weeks: Leviticus 23:9-22

Our spring is a harvest time in the land of Israel, so near Passover will come the first day of harvest. The Feast of Unleavened Bread, or offering of the omer, easily confused with the Matzot obligations of Passover unleavened bread.

Count off seven weeks from Pesach to Shavuot, from Passover to Pentecost, and you’re measuring the omer period, the season of counting the omer, each day counting from one festival to the next one.

There is an offering from the community at the outset, waving the sheaf before the harvest can proceed, on the day after Sabbath, with lamb and grain offerings, to break a fast.

There is an offering at the 50th day: a week of weeks, 7X7, with new grain, loaves of bread, lambs, bull, and rams, goats, a huge feast and celebration.

By now you may be recognizing the shape of our own Great Fifty days of Easter leading from our own Passover of Easter to our own Pentecost of the gift of the Spirit.

These are the ritual calendar enumerations, of course. The stories, the narrative, the haggadah, are not found in this text, except as ‘white fire’ between the lines of ‘black fire’ print in Torah.

But just in case you were disconnecting aesthetics and ethics, ritual and routine, rites and rights, the reminder of gleanings is made. Don’t reap to the edges of your fields, but leave them for the poor and the stranger. Sabbath rest is didactic, as well as doxological.

We’re doing this devotional, ‘Glib Liberals Reading Leviticus in Tory Times’, not as anthropological arms-length curiosity about our neighbours. Our culture says ‘pay yourself first’, and resist the claims of the commonwealth, in taxation or in charity. This culture says pay God and commonwealth first. What do you say?

What if we applied ‘gleanings’ to our own economy, so focused on ‘productivity’ and avoiding ‘waste’? If we only keep score by quarterly returns to shareholders, and ignore the externalized costs to the wider community and environment, the poor lose first and most, but also the workers.

Leviticus 23:9-22

9 The LORD spoke to Moses:

10 Speak to the people of Israel and say to them: When you enter the land that I am giving you and you reap its harvest, you shall bring the sheaf of the first fruits of your harvest to the priest.

11 He shall raise the sheaf before the LORD, so that you may find acceptance; on the day after the sabbath the priest shall raise it.

12 On the day when you raise the sheaf, you shall offer a lamb a year old, without blemish, as a burnt-offering to the LORD.

13 And the grain-offering with it shall be two-tenths of an ephah of choice flour mixed with oil, an offering by fire of pleasing odour to the LORD; and the drink-offering with it shall be of wine, one-fourth of a hin.

14 You shall eat no bread or parched grain or fresh ears until that very day, until you have brought the offering of your God: it is a statute for ever throughout your generations in all your settlements.

15 And from the day after the sabbath, from the day on which you bring the sheaf of the elevation-offering, you shall count off seven weeks; they shall be complete.

16 You shall count until the day after the seventh sabbath, fifty days; then you shall present an offering of new grain to the LORD.

17 You shall bring from your settlements 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.

18 You shall present with the bread seven lambs a year old without blemish, one young bull, and two rams; they shall be a burnt-offering to the LORD, along with their grain-offering and their drink-offerings, an offering by fire of pleasing odour to the LORD.

19 You shall also offer one male goat for a sin-offering, and two male lambs a year old as a sacrifice of well-being.

20 The priest shall raise them with the bread of the first fruits as an elevation-offering before the LORD, together with the two lambs; they shall be holy to the LORD for the priest.

21 On that same day you shall make proclamation; you shall hold a holy convocation; you shall not work at your occupations. This is a statute for ever in all your settlements throughout your generations.

22 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.