Curtis Dahlgren
YOM KIPPUR; celebrating the harvest by not eating
By Curtis Dahlgren
October 9, 2019

IT WAS APRIL OF 1623, time to get the year's corn planted. But as the Pilgrims went into the fields to till the ground and put in the seed, there was a listlessness about them that was more than just weakness from months of inadequate rations. They were well aware that they needed at least twice as great a yield as the first harvest and they did not want a repeat of the half-hearted effort of the second summer (when they had been too busy building houses and planting gardens to give the common cornfields the attention they needed). So the principle men of the colony decided that there would be an additional planting. But for this second planting individual lots would be parceled out, with the understanding that the corn grown on these lots would be for the planters' own private use. Suddenly, new life seemed to infuse the Pilgrims.

The foregoing is an excerpt from Peter Marshall and David Manuel's "The Light and the Glory; Did God have a plan for America?" To continue:

Suddenly . . it made all hands very industrious, so as much more corn was planted than otherwise would have been by any means the Governor or any other could use, and saved him a great deal of trouble and gave far better content. The women now went willingly into the field and took their little ones with them to set corn, which before would allege weakness and inability, who to have compelled would have been thought great tyranny and oppression. [BUT] . .

Sometime after the second planting, it became apparent that the dry spell which had begun between the two plantings was turning into a drought. Week followed week (it would continue 12 weeks in all), and not even the oldest Indians could remember anything like it. Edward Winslow described the drought, and what followed:

THERE SCARCE FELL ANY RAIN, so that the stalk of that [first planting] began to send forth the ear before it came to half growth, and that which was later [planted], not like to yield any at all, both blade and stalk hanging the head and changing the color in such manner as we judged it utterly dead. Our beans also ran not up according to their wonted manner, but stood at a stay, many being parched away, as though they had been scorched before the fire. Now were our hopes overthrown, and we discouraged, our joy turned into mourning . . because God, Who hitherto had been our only shield and supporter, now seemed in His anger to arm Himself against us. And who can withstand the fierceness of His wrath?

These and the like considerations moved not only every good man privately to enter into examination with his own estate between God and his conscience, and so to humiliation before Him, but also to humble ourselves together before the Lord by fasting and prayer. To that end a day was appointed by public authority, and set apart from all other employments.

At this point we wondered what might have caused God to visit such a judgment upon His new Chosen People? At first, we were at a loss to find anything which seemed to merit such severe, across-the-board dealing. And then it came to us . . .

We found, when we looked at the natural inclination of our own hearts, that we too would have been out there planting as many kernels as we possibly could. And not just to ensure that we would never be that hungry again; we would have dwelt much on what we were going to get in trade for the extra ears. AND GOD WOULD HAVE BEEN NOWHERE IN VIEW.

We would have been totally absorbed in looking out for our own interests. If the fellow next door were not able to plant his plot as well as we could, well – too bad for him. In the end, we saw that the moment greed and self began to get the upper hand, there was little difference between golden kernels and golden coins . . . [they had gone from one extreme to the other] . .

It seemed that God was using this whole episode to show them an area of self in which they had not actually overcome as much as they might have thought. Sin is like the layers of an onion: when one layer is peeled off, there are always more layers beneath.

Winslow continues: But, O the mercy of our God, who was as ready to hear, as we were to ask! For though in the morning [of the fast day], when we assembled together, the heavens were as clear and the drought as like to continue as it ever was, yet (our exercise continuing some eight to nine hours) before our departure, the weather was overcast, the clouds gathered on all sides. On the next morning distilled such soft, sweet and moderate showers of rain, continuing some fourteen days [!!] and mixed with such seasonable weather, as it was hard to say whether our withered corn or drooping affection were most quickened or revived, such was the bounty and goodness of our God!

Bradford says, "It came, without either wind or thunder, or any violence, and by degrees in that abundance as that the earth was thoroughly wet and soaked therewith. Which did so apparently revive and quicken the decayed corn and other fruits, as wonderful to see and made the Indians astonished to behold . . [their rain dances had mostly failed]."

Winslow comments: "They admired the goodness of our God towards us, that wrought so great a change in so short a time, showing the difference between their conjuration and our invocation on the name of God for rain . . . " Marshall and Manuel continue:

The yield that year was so abundant that the Pilgrims ended up with a surplus of corn, which they were able to use in trading that winter with northern Indians, who had NOT had a good growing season. A second Day of Thanksgiving was planned, and this year there was even more reason to celebrate: their beloved Governor was to marry one Alice Southworth. Massasoit was again the guest of honor, and this time he brought his principal wife and 120 braves! Fortunately he again brought venison and turkey, as well . . .

The first course that was served was a plate in front of each person with five kernels of corn . . . lest anyone should forget the previous winter.

P.S. Thus endeth my Yom Kippur column. And I think there's a lesson in there somewhere. Do we get the point?


© Curtis Dahlgren


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Curtis Dahlgren

Curtis Dahlgren is semi-retired in southern Wisconsin, and is the author of "Massey-Harris 101." His career has had some rough similarities to one of his favorite writers, Ferrar Fenton... (more)


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