I’m not sure there can be a more potent symbol of the month of Iyyar, which generally falls between April and May, than barley (שְׂעֹרָה). Many of us are disconnected from the agricultural cycles of our world, and especially disconnected from the agricultural cycles that part of Jewish tradition. But in the ancient world, and for a few of us moderns, Passover is the beginning of the barley harvest. Pesach, when we clean out our cupboards of barley and all other grains and refrain from eating chametz (fermented grain) is really a time of sacrifice and cleansing before the new harvest begins on the second day of Passover. The period called “the counting of the omer,” which begins on the second day of Passover was literally a time of counting the barley harvest in ancient Judea. An “omer” was simply a measure of barley.
According to the The Encyclopedia of Jewish Symbols, barley was the primary food source of ancient Israel, but during the mishnaic period (1st-3rd century CE) it became the grain of poverty and animal feed. Its centrality to ancient Israelites is why our holiday cycle revolves around it, and we see vestiges in our modern practice.
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