A Harvest of Love
Preparations for Passover begin almost a year before the
festival, when the wheat for the shemurah (guarded)
matzah is harvested. Shemurah matzah is made from grain
that has been meticulously guarded from the time of its harvest
in order that it not come in contact with any moisture whatsoever,
to avoid the slightest chance that it might ferment. In this
memoir, the previous Lubavitcher Rebbe (Rabbi Yosef Yitzchak
Schneersohn, 1880-1950) recalls how the shemurah was
harvested by the chassidim of his grandfather and father more
than one hundred years ago:
The wheat for the shemurah matzah was taken from the
fields of Reb Zalman Shcherbiner, whose homestead was in Shcherbina,
a two hour journey from Lubavitch. The journey to Shcherbina,
and the events surrounding it, made a deep impression upon
me, and are engraved in my childhood memories.
Reb Zalman had a meticulous system for choosing the field
with the highest quality wheat, and for choosing the day and
hour of the harvest. The conditions for the harvest were:
a clear and bright day on which the sun shone in its full
intensity, and that no rain had fallen in the previous three
days. The set hours for harvesting the shemurah were
from noon to two oclock or two-thirty in the afternoon.
When the time for harvest approached, Reb Zalman would come
to Lubavitch to make the arrangements. For in addition to
Reb Zalman, his family, and the Jewish families who lived
on Reb Zalmans land, several of the zitzers (resident
scholars) of Lubavitch, as well as those visiting Lubavitch
at the time, would work at harvesting and threshing the wheat.
Since the exact day on which the above conditions would be
met could not be known in advance, Reb Zalman would come with
several wagons to take the people who would be doing the harvesting
to Shcherbina, so that they should be ready to begin work
at the proper moment. At times, they would wait a week or
more for the perfect conditions to harvest the shemurah.
For Reb Zalman, the shemurah harvest was a cause for
threefold joy. First of all, he would be cutting wheat for
the shemurah matzah for the Rebbe.
Secondly, he would have guests from Lubavitch in his home
for several days, something which he especially loved and
for which he had a special talent. But most of all, the Rebbe
himself would be attending the cutting of the wheat, and this
was something that would infuse Reb Zalman with a year-long
vitality and joy.
From the day that Reb Zalman left Lubavitch with the harvesters
until that clear, bright day on which the shemurah
was cut, the talk of the town was of the weather. People looked
constantly at the sky; they felt the wind to see if it was
dry or if it contained the slightest moisture. Dozens of predictions
were heard about the next days weather. Each day we
awaited the arrival of the special messenger from Shcherbina
who would tell us that the harvest would be on that day.
* * *
The cutting and the threshing of the wheat were done with
great joy, coupled with a seriousness that was profoundly
displayed upon the countenances of the workers. All were belted
with their gartlenand
wore hats over their yarmulkes.
The work went swiftly in the burning heat, as if the harvesters
were experienced farmers.
Sickle in hand, the elderly Reb Zalman, with his broad, regal
beard and face shining with joy, was swift and nimble as a
lad. One could see the joy literally lifting him off his feet.
His shoes and white socks floated above the ground like the
feet of Naftali on a divine mission, as can only be with a
true servant of G-d whose very heels are permeated with the
profound pleasure of the mind and the inner will of the heart
to serve G-d.
Some of the chassidim would cut the wheat, while others sang
Chassidic melodies which poured forth with a sublime sweetness
and carried across the countryside.
An aura of holiness enveloped the entire area. The wives
and children of the local families stood by and watched, dressed
in their Shabbat clothes, their faces reflecting the specialty
of the occasion.
When the cutting and threshing of the wheat were concluded,
Reb Zalman and a number of others would go to bathe. Upon
his return, Reb Zalman, who would be wearing his Shabbat clothes,
would lead the afternoon minchah prayers, which he
would chant with a Simchat Torah tune. Tachanun was not said. Following the prayers,
all would join him in a joyous dance, during which Reb Zalman
would suddenly leap into the air and perform three back-and-forth
All would then proceed to the tables set up in the orchard,
where a festive dairy meal was laid out for the farbrengen.
At the meal, the Rebbe would deliver a discourse of Chassidic
teaching and farbreng for several hours. After the
Rebbe had retired to the room which had been prepared for
him, the assembled would continue to farbreng all night
In the morning, following the morning prayers, we would return
to Lubavitch. Reb Zalman and his crew would arrive in Lubavitch
that evening, bringing with them the sack of shemurah
grain, which would be hung in a special room for safekeeping.
Told by the previous Lubavitcher Rebbe, Rabbi Yosef Yitzchak
. Rabbi Shmuel of Lubavitch and, after his passing
in 1882, Rabbi Shalom DovBer of Lubavitch.
. A belt worn by chassidim during prayer.
. It is Chassidic custom to wear a double head-covering
. Confession of sins, which is omitted on festivals
and on especially joyous occasions.
. Joyous gathering entailing words of Torah, singing
. Likkutei Dibburim, vol. I, pp. 241-244.