Omer Teaching: Candle, Spoon, Feather, and Pocket


Omer Teaching: Candle, Spoon, Feather, and Pocket

By Cantor Eric Schulmiller

(Provided by Rabbi Diane Elliot)


Panko, the Better Breadcrumb

In this week’s Torah portion (Emor), we read,
You shall eat unleavened bread for seven days. (Lev. 23:5-6)

Earlier, in Exodus, the command to eat unleavened bread was offset by this command not to eat any leavened products:

Seven days there shall be no leaven found in your houses; for whoever eats what is leavened, that person shall be cut off from the congregation of Israel, whether he is an alien or a native of the land. (Ex. 12:19)

Of all the foods that play an important role in Jewish ritual life, perhaps the most overlooked in terms of its transformative symbolism is the lowly breadcrumb. Each Rosh Hashanah we loft these penitential panko into flowing waters, then stand at the ready with spoon, feather and candle as they mysteriously wash ashore at Pesach six months later—inside our toaster, behind our fridge, or surreptitiously planted, like the murder weapon from a bad episode of Law and Order, in an easy-to-reach corner of our home, waiting to be swept up, pronounced null and void, and burnt to a (inedible) crisp. Why were these crumbs chosen to represent our most hidden sins, or (as the chasidim teach), our haughtiest arrogance? Why must we Jews endure this twice-yearly crouton crucible?

Perhaps the breadcrumb’s transformative power can be found in those ritual objects with which they are most intimately connected: the candle, the spoon and the feather on Pesach; and our pockets on Rosh Hashanah. Together, these four items can be taken to represent four major categories of conscious consumption: Energy (candle), food (spoon), communication (feather), and money (pockets). In our daily lives, it is easy to become overwhelmed and discouraged at the prospect of radically altering our lifestyles in order to achieve a more just and sustainable world. The lowly breadcrumb surfaces twice a year to remind us that small changes in how we exist on this planet can result in substantial progress towards tikkun olam.

Here are a few small steps that our congregation has taken over the past few years to become more sustainable in the ways of the candle, spoon, feather and pockets:
Candle (energy):
At our 2005 annual meeting, our congregation agreed to purchase all of our electricity from wind, small hydro and bioenergy-generated sources via our electric company’s Green Choice Program. This made us the first synagogue in the nation to become “carbon neutral,” and only the second religious institution in the entire country to qualify for the EPA Green Power Leadership Club. Then, at our High Holiday services, we distributed Green Choice applications to every synagogue member, encouraging them to become carbon neutral as well.

Find out if green power is available in your community. Every bit of support helps bring renewable energy onto our grid, and remove thousands of tons of greenhouse gases from our atmosphere.

Spoon (food):
Last year, our congregation became a Tuv Ha’aretz site – the first Jewish CSA, run by the environmental organization Hazon. Our members are able to buy shares in a local organic farm and receive fresh, organic produce each week at our synagogue. Find out more about CSA’s (Community supported agriculture) and Tuv Ha’aretz .

Feather (communication):
We have not yet switched our office supplies or our newsletter to 100% recycled paper, but we’ll hopefully make this next sustainable step this year. Find green office supplies at The or even at Staples .

Pockets (money):
While our board has approved the additional expense needed to purchase green energy, explore recycled supply options, and replace much of our lighting with compact fluorescents, our social action committee would also like them to consider adding a “green line” to the budget, that would provide a financially (and symbolically) meaningful and permanent mandate to continue striving, bit by bit, to make our synagogue as “eco-kosher” as possible.
[In the spirit of sustainability, the first part of this essay was lovingly recycled from Eric’s recent posting on . Ed]

Questions for Thought and Discussion:
1. What other ritual acts/items can you revalue to reflect your personal/communal connection to our planet?
2. Can you think of one small thing in need of tikkun (healing/repair) that keeps resurfacing, that if you could change, it would make a difference?
3. On the Yamim Noraim (Days of Awe), we read of Jonah, who, like our breadcrumbs, is also cast into the sea, only to resurface in a different place in his journey. Can you think of any other characters, either Jewish or literary, who were likewise cast into the deep and resurfaced with a new purpose? How do they inspire you?