Pandemic seedtime and harvest

What Shall We Plant Now?

עֹד כָּל-יְמֵי הָאָרֶץ זֶרַע וְקָצִיר … לֹ֥א יִשְׁבֹּֽתוּ׃

So long as the earth endures, seedtime and harvest will never cease. – Genesis 8:22


Rabbi Zalman Schachter-Shalomi described elderhood as a time of sacred harvesting.*

Throughout youth and middle age, we plant ideas, tend to worthy endeavors, and prune our priorities. If we then fail to bring in the harvest, it is almost as if all our earlier efforts were wasted.

A similar argument has been made about the pandemic. We have planted new habits and tended fresh shoots of appreciation and patience, even as we drastically pruned our usual activities and priorities. If we do not deliberately gather in all we have gained, then the Wisdom we might have harvested will die on the vine.

This may sound like mere imagery or metaphor, but the implications are very specific and practical:

  • How will you continue to express appreciation for people who were, too often, formerly taken for granted: e.g., grocery store workers, health care workers, postal carriers, other delivery folks, neighbors?
  • If you have adopted some new, welcome habits– e.g., walking regularly outdoors, eating more meals with your family, Zooming into cultural events and adult education classes – which of these practices will you maintain, as life and your schedule return, more and more, to “normal”? How will you keep these new habits going?
  • During the pandemic, you probably connected more deeply with some folks and fell out of touch with others. How do you want to move forward in your relationships?
  • Will you choose to resume the amount of shopping, errands, and/or commuting that you engaged in pre-pandemic? What systems will you put in place in order to maintain a balance that brings you peace and contentment?
  • Consider the benefits to our planet of this past year’s slowdown. How can we return to travel and other activities while being more mindful of our energy use?
  • With all the suffering, volunteerism, and “lost time” around Covid, how will you choose to give of your time going forward?
  • The pandemic forced upon all of us a keen awareness of the Oneness and interdependence of humanity. How will you keep these insights alive for yourself, and how will you respond to others in light of them?

These are just a few examples of questions whose answers can yield a bountiful harvest.

Of course, some of the changes during the pandemic need, themselves, to be pruned. Not all our new habits of mind, speech, and body deserve to be preserved. Some people drank too much alcohol, watched the news or Netflix obsessively, or became more sedentary. Many folks have fallen into catastrophic thinking – fearing and anticipating “the worst” far more than they did before the pandemic. And many people are suffering from supercharged fears of scarcity, uncertainty, and even re-emergence.

In light of the stresses of the last year, all this is very understandable. It’s a mitzvah to be kind and compassionate with ourselves and with one another. And we must also choose carefully what we will sow right now – and harvest later.

We have been living under extraordinary circumstances, and now we face an unprecedented time of transition. But in any and all circumstances, our tradition consistently recommends planting two kinds of seeds: seeds of faith and seeds of action.

Faith in this context means placing appropriate trust in trustworthy allies. We can seek support from God, a friendly universe, caring medical professionals, public servants worthy of the name, helpful teachers and clergy, and loving family, friends, and community members. The Lubavither Rebbe famously advised, “Think ‘good,’ and it will be good.” This is not an endorsement of magical thinking, but a vote for the power of focusing on the strengths, talents, resources, and opportunities that are already available to you. That kind of positive, hopeful focus is at least as realistic as a negative one, especially if you are willing to take…

…Action.  Action means helping yourself and others, both with what you plant (seeding positive habits and ideas) and with what you harvest (own and share whatever bounty you can manifest). It means regularly taking baby steps toward your best vision of what is possible, even if that feels strange or unfamiliar after more than a year of fear, sorrow, division and isolation.

As we co-create a “new normal,” Faith asks:

  • Who and what will be there for me (and in me), regardless of circumstances?
  • What examples of hope and trustworthiness have encouraged me?
  • How can I be faithful to my best vision for the future?
  • What would I do if I were not afraid?

Action demands:

  • What is my next, manageably small, right action in support of a great future?
  • And if not now, when?

You are invited to share your answers – and other questions you may have – with me at

*Reb Zalman’s aptly-named book, From Aging to Sage-ing: A Revolutionary Approach to Growing Older, launched a new movement that continues to affect Western perspectives on aging decades after it was first published.

About the Author
Debra Orenstein, rabbi of Congregation B'nai Israel in Emerson, NJ, is an acclaimed teacher, author, and scholar-in-residence. She is editor of Lifecycles 1:Jewish Women on Life Passages and Personal Milestones and Lifecycles 2: Jewish Women on Biblical Themes in Contemporary Life (Jewish Lights). A seventh generation rabbi, she was in the first rabbinical class at The Jewish Theological Seminary to include women. She earned a Certificate in Positive Psychology and teaches online. Visit to learn more.
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