Praying with your body

flowers, hammock, and pomegranite bush
The yellow flowers that bloomed so exuberantly in my yard in late winter are on their way out. Some of them are still hanging on (and are a hit with the butterflies) but the majority have faded and dried up. The pomegranate tree, at least, has put out red blossoms, although I won’t be around to see if it bears fruit. The olive tree is steady and silvery-green as always.
It’s the eleventh fifteenth (by the time I’m actually posting this) day of the Omer, the period of time after Pesach and before Shavuot that was traditionally a harvest season here, and Pesach also marks the end of the rainy season. Yesterday, the internet told me that it would rain, and it was cool and blustery for an hour or so, and a drop or two fell, and then the sky cleared and the sun came out.
The Omer comes with a lot of rules. There are days and weeks to be counted. Haircuts and weddings are forbidden. The origins of those latter rules are vague, and often understood as a period of mourning, but before that interpretation, they seem to be part of an older tradition, not unique to Judaism, related to concerns about fertility and fragile harvests.
In this vein, my friend Aharon quoted Rabbi David Seidenberg’s interpretation that “a possible reason why there is a custom not to shave or cut our hair during this time is to pray with our bodies for the growth of the wheat.”
My hair is fairly short, as women’s hair goes, and more often than not, I cut it myself. This has resulted in haircuts not being an event but an ongoing process: snip off a bit here, a bit there, as it gets unruly. So I decided to try to put down the scissors for the Omer, or at least for the first thirty-three days of it.
And now we’re back in the murky territory of what prayer accomplishes. Letting my hair grow won’t bring down rain, won’t help the plants grow. But it is about concern for, and connection with, things bigger than myself.
Here’s to hoping the plants hang on a little longer.

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