Seven weeks dreaming of barley in Jerusalem

That’s when I woke up.

MAY WE all bask in God’s carefree abundance from the barley harvest to the wheat harvest. (photo credit: PIXABAY)
MAY WE all bask in God’s carefree abundance from the barley harvest to the wheat harvest.
(photo credit: PIXABAY)
I had a sweet dream.
In my dream it was spring with its intoxicating concoction of warm days and cool Jerusalem nights. There was a sense of anticipation in the air. Everyone was furiously cleaning their houses, meticulously removing all chametz and getting ready for the Seder. Everyone that is, except for the three special agents of the high court.
For these stalwart characters, there was no time for such domesticity – they had an urgent mission to accomplish before nightfall, out in the barley fields. Wandering amongst the waving stalks they selected the best-looking sheaves and tied them together in bundles to mark them, a volume of about 25cm3 (which to me looked like the equivalent of about 25-liter bottles of Cola).
The following evening, after recuperating from all those extra kneidlach (that I didn’t really need, but they just tasted so good) and a really nicely, well-done piece of shank bone (if I might say so myself), our whole family was getting ready for the celebration. As the sun set, the whole gang trooped out into the street to meet our next-door neighbors, Pinchas and Rivka Levy, their clan and the cross-the-road neighbors the Reuvenis, with toddler in tow. We were joined by the Ben-Israels from down the road (the father, Avi, is a great flutist by the way) and it seemed like everyone in the entire neighborhood had turned out. The procession continued down the main street where we were joined by other Jerusalemites, carrying tambourines and darboukas until the sound of music filled the air as everyone danced out of the city walls and into the fields.
Some people were carrying baskets, sickles, a variety of musical instruments, all decked out in their best festive clothes. Everyone was singing, dancing and rejoicing until finally we arrived at the sheaves of barley in the field that had been specially marked the day before. As the harvesting of the marked sheaves progressed – cutting the stalks of grain with the sickles and carefully placing them in the basket, making sure that they did not come into contact with any moisture – the celebration reached its climax.
The special agents of the high court bid good night to all the revelers and thanked one and all for making this year an especially merry harvest. They then speedily departed to convey the baskets of harvested barley to the Temple.
The following morning, the first day of Hol Hamo’ed, that’s when the real nitty gritty began. Rising early in the morning, I rode my donkey Bilam downtown to the Temple, jostling with other early risers to get a good vantage point. Despite the throngs of people, it seemed there was ample elbow room for all. I watched as the stalks of barley were threshed, winnowed and the grains sorted. They were then roasted in a special sieve-like container over the fire and left to cool. The cooled grains were then ground by hand and meticulously sifted 13 times until all that remained was about 1.8 kg of choice barley semolina.
This year it was Avner Cohen’s turn to wave. He mixed the semolina with what looked like a 350-ml. can of olive oil and spiced it with a fragrant handful of frankincense, the scent of which wafted over to us. All eyes were on him as he purposefully walked over to the eastern side of the altar, directly opposite where I was standing, just beyond Nikanor’s Gate. He raised the bowl of barley mixture in the air, waving it from side to side, to the east, the north, the west and the south.
Avner then turned his gaze up as he waved the barley mixture heavenward and finally downward toward the earth. His rich baritone voice filled the air with melodious song as he supplicated the Lord to bless the barley harvest and to grant us plentiful abundance, answered by a thunderous Amen from the crowd. He then removed a handful of mixture from the bowl and slowly ascended the ramp and threw the handful of barley mixture into the flames on the southwest corner of the altar, where it was burnt to a cinder.
Bilam, who was munching on some straw, didn’t seem to have noticed that I had been gone for almost half the day and bore me home to where my family was waiting for me to eat a scrumptious lunch.
That’s when I woke up.
A sweet dream indeed, but a poignant reminder that this is the ways things should be – the way they were and will be again. The seven weeks between Passover and Shavuot will once again be times of rejoicing and celebration. All the suffering of the last 2,000 years will be but a distant memory and we will all bask in God’s carefree abundance from the barley harvest to the wheat harvest.
The writer, a master baker originally from Johannesburg, South Africa, lives in Karnei Shomron with his wife Sheryl and four children. He is CEO of the Saidel Artisan Baking Institute (, which specializes in training and education in the field of organic, healthy, artisan baking, and is the inventor of Rambam Bread. He also lectures and works as a consultant in the fields of cereal chemistry, health, nutrition and authentic Jewish bread.