Gleaning time for healing and rest
Shabbat Shalom Chaverim—
This week’s Torah portion, Emor, details many of the requirements for both the anointed Israelite leadership, the Kohanim, and the community at large to create a cohesive and unique society. Among the laws affecting the polity is one that asserts that the corners of the fields should be made available to glean by the poor, the stranger and the widow. In ancient times, as described here, the giver was passive (they simply needed to leave the corners of the harvest unpicked), while the recipient was active (they had to come and pick what they needed themselves). The Torah expects that there is some volition amongst those in need, that they still have enough pluck, reserve, and self-esteem to take care of themselves, even if being assured a leg up by the farmer. It assumes trust and respect, dignity and strength as components of this fragile relationship between the haves and the have-nots.
As a metaphor for spiritual work, it’s even more powerful. If we think about the many struggles we have as human beings—trauma, depression, anger, addiction, social injustice to name a few—what does it mean to glean? What are the corners of the field?
One possible answer is found in Shabbat. It’s really just leaving the corners of the week’s field open. To afford each other time to actively glean a few hours of healing and rest, to take a break from the constant drive to survive, to sing praises, to be in community, to simply pluck a moment or two of peace and serenity to sustain and nourish us. And when we make that time available to each other, amazing connection can be born. Over the past 20 years that I have been in congregational leadership, I have witnessed the power of what happens when we simply leave space for the depleted, the loner, the broken-hearted to walk in our doors. Sometimes people look really put together when they really are not; sometimes someone is fighting for their life while dancing around the room; sometimes someone is praying to simply be noticed, asked a question, or invited to participate. We never know, and so we have to leave the corners of our field open enough to welcome each other in. Let’s make a practice of noticing people we’ve never met, introducing ourselves, inviting each other to join one of our committees or learning groups. And we need to overcome our shyness or fear or pain enough to keep showing up, keep seeking those sweet moments, and holding fast to the faith that there is enough.
This is the essence of what it means to participate in community, to collectively commit resources, money, expertise, time and dedication to ensuring that there is a space for the gleaning, just as we show up with our needs, aspirations, and hope.
May this Shabbat be a time of fullness, for those of plenty and those of yearning.