As I got up to speak to the smallish crowd gathered in shul on the second day of Shavuot this year, which happened to be Memorial Day, I found myself speaking about the surprising joy I have found in milking goats once a week on Sunday mornings and gathering fresh eggs from our Jewish goat and chicken co-ops. I spoke of the verse in the Torah reading from Deuteronomy that mentions nedivat yedecha – the voluntary gifts of your hands offered in antiquity on Shavuot, the Festival of First Fruits. I suggested that most of us cannot feel the connection in a tangible way to the production, gifting and consumption of our food, and therefore not fully appreciate the joy, gratitude and humility associated with it. For me, this has changed since eating such fresh eggs laid by birds I have come to know and sipping delicious fresh milk from goats who now feel like family members and which comes into the bucket through my own hands. It is joyful and it does create a different way to connect to the biblical holidays in a tangible way.
Before the end of the service, I invited anyone who wanted to see our growing little farm across the street to wander over with me after Kiddush and take a look. Almost 20 people joined our farm tour including Irene, a Hungarian survivor of Auschwitz and Doris, who left Berlin escaping the Nazis on the Kindertransport to London. Along with the general oohs and aahs as people saw our new baby chicks and the newish kids on the block, was a powerful and unexpected triggering of memory on that sunny Memorial Day, just after having recited Yizkor in shul. Irene was feeding the goats melon rinds and petting them and a nostalgic glint of recognition shone out of her eyes as she shared memories from her childhood in the Carpathian Mountains where “everyone had goats or chickens.” Doris then shared that even though she was a city girl raised in Berlin, she remembered her late husband Martin Small, brought up on a farm in a shtetl in Poland, who used to tease Doris for not knowing the difference between a chicken and a horse!
Many of us see the “New Jewish Food Movement” as part of a new future of a more sustainable world through a much greater awareness of the source of our food. The walk that day across the street to the Boulder Jewish Commons Community Farm was a powerful and unexpected reminder that this work is not just about the future, but about the past as well, connecting us to a lost Jewish world of less than 100 years ago, where every day our ancestors were doing what has become so new and exciting to us.
On the same day that Rabbi Marc posted these moving thoughts on 'hands on' Jewish life, I read a Hassidic commentary from the Tiferet Shlomo about Moshe's 'complaints' about being on Mount Sinai for forty days and nights. Here is a short paraphrase of the teaching:
One would expect that Moshe felt blessed and grateful by being the only Israelite permitted to have this ongoing direct contact with the Divine; so what was Moshe so upset about, even when he spent this time (referring to the second cycle of three sets of forty days on the mountain) defending the Jews in the matter of the Golden Calf? The Rebbe answers that because of there involvement, he was 'forced' to spend time away from the earthly plane, the only place in all of creation where one could serve G-d by 'hands on' contact with material elements that could be used in Divine service. In fact, according to the sages, that was the primary reason why Moshe won a debate with the angels, to let the Torah be brought down from heaven.
I once asked some first grade students at Boulder Jewish Day School, why the angels did not want to let the Torah come down to earth, and one student proclaimed, 'Because they didn't want it to get dirty!' I then tried to explain how there is a good side to getting dirty, as when you are doing a mitzvah, by teaching them a song I composed about how Moshe won this debate.
'He said you angels were never slaves to Mitzrayim or the Yetzer Hora; you can't eat any matzah, or chew that bitter Maror. You can't built a sukah, or a shofar you can't blow; you can't give Tzedakah, 'cause you ain't got any dough…' Now I can add, 'You can't milk your goats, or collect those chicken eggs;you can't weed your gardens, or use those human legs..' Yasher Koach to the 'down and dirty' Jewish farmers of Boulder.
Have had chickens and goats in the past and am particularly fond of goats, as well as of the beautiful eggs that araucana hens lay. Thanks for your beautifully written words about a great project!