Aviv Barley and the Head of the Year

In Exodus 9:31-32, YHWH caused a plague of hail to fall on the Land of Egypt. The flax and the barley were damaged (‘struck’) by the hail, because they were in an advanced stage of development.

Exodus 9:31-32
31 Now the flax and the barley were struck, for the barley was in the head and the flax was in bud.
32 But the wheat and the spelt were not struck, for they are late crops.

(31) וְהַפִּשְׁתָּה וְהַשְּׂעֹרָה נֻכָּתָה | כִּי הַשְּׂעֹרָה אָבִיב וְהַפִּשְׁתָּה גִּבְעֹל: (32) וְהַחִטָּה וְהַכֻּסֶּמֶת לֹא נֻכּוּ | כִּי אֲפִילֹת הֵנָּה

The barley was ‘struck’ because it had reached a state of maturity where the development was “in the head”. The Hebrew word for this is ‘Aviv’ (אָבִיב). This term is very important, because soon after the barley was Aviv, YHWH told Moshe and Aharon that month they had just begun was the “head of months,” and that it was “the first month of the year.”

Exodus 12:2
2 “This month is the head of months for you; it is the first month of the year to you.”

(2) הַחֹדֶשׁ הַזֶּה לָכֶם רֹאשׁ חֳדָשִׁים | רִאשׁוֹן הוּא לָכֶם לְחָדְשֵׁי הַשָּׁנָה

As we will see, what this shows us is that the month that begins just after the barley in Israel becomes Aviv is the first month of the Torah Calendar year.

Like the New Moon Day, the determination of the Head of the Year is critical. The Head of the Year has to be set in the correct month, or else all of the other months will be thrown off. Therefore, let us learn more about ‘Aviv’ barley, so we can make sure we set the Head of the Year in the right month.

Before cereal grasses bud, the stalk is generally still flexible and soft, and can take a direct hit from hail without being destroyed. However, as cereal grasses begin to flower and produce fruit they become drier and more brittle, and thus they are more easily damaged.

Although modern agriculture uses a few different terms, for our purposes, barley and other cereal grasses can be thought to pass through the following growth stages:

  1. Vegetative (growth) stage;
  2. Budding and Flowering (‘cotton’) stage;
  3. Seed pod formation stage;
  4. Milk stage;
  5. Soft Dough (‘Aviv’) stage;
  6. Hard Dough (‘Carmel’) stage;
  7. Ancient ripe.

After flowering, barley forms a seed pod, which soon fills with a milky fluid. This fluid slowly becomes harder and more substantive, until finally it is more solid than liquid. Once the contents of the seed pod have gained enough mass that they resemble soft bread dough, the barley has reached the stage where its development can be thought of as being “in the ear” (אָבִיב).

Because aviv barley has a soft doughy consistency, it is still not as hard (or as substantial) as it will be when it is fully ripe. It still needs to mature on the stalk for at least two more weeks before it can be harvested for long term storage, or used as a Wave Sheaf Offering. However, even while it may still be too moist to put into long term storage without drying it first, aviv barley is nonetheless substantive enough to be eaten if it is first lightly roasted in fire, a process known as ‘parching.’ Parching drives the moisture out of the immature grain, making it hard enough that it can be cracked, or ground into flour. Parched grains are mentioned in Leviticus 23:14, Joshua 5:11, and 1st Samuel 17:17 and 1st Samuel 25:18. Leviticus 2:14 shows us they are even substantial enough to be used for a First Fruits offering.

Leviticus 2:14
14 “’Also when you bring an offering of First Fruits to YHWH, you may bring Aviv grain parched in the fire, (or) crushed Carmel shall you offer for your First Fruits offering.’”

(14) וְאִם תַּקְרִיב מִנְחַת בִּכּוּרִים לַיהוָה | אָבִיב קָלוּי בָּאֵשׁ גֶּרֶשׂ כַּרְמֶל תַּקְרִיב אֵת מִנְחַת בִּכּוּרֶיךָ

In subsequent chapters we will see why the Aviv must be declared when the first complete shocks of barley in the Land of Israel are Aviv, but first we should point out that the term ‘Aviv’ is not a name of a month.

Exodus 12:2 (below) shows us that YHWH originally identified the months not by names (Nisan, Iyar, Sivan, etcetera), but by ordinal numbers (first month, second month, third month, etcetera).

Exodus 12:2
2 “This month is the head of months for you; it is the first month of the year to you.”

(2) הַחֹדֶשׁ הַזֶּה לָכֶם רֹאשׁ חֳדָשִׁים | רִאשׁוֹן הוּא לָכֶם לְחָדְשֵׁי הַשָּׁנָה

The Scriptural practice of calling the days and months by ordinal numbers is demonstrated in Ezekiel 1:1.

Yehezqel (Ezekiel) 1:1
1 Now it came to pass in the thirtieth year, in the fourth month, on the fifth day of the month, as I was among the captives by the River Chebar, that the heavens were opened and I saw visions of Elohim.

However, as the Babylonian Exile progressed, the Jews adopted the practice of calling the months by Babylonian names and terms (e.g., Sivan, Tammuz, Adar, and etcetera).

Hadassah (Esther) 8:9
9 So the king’s scribes were called at that time in the third month (that is, the month Sivan)….

After the Romans destroyed the Temple in 70 CE and our Jewish brothers began to be dispersed, the rabbis were no longer free to observe the Aviv in Israel. Since they were increasingly forced out of the Land (and could not set the Head of the Year on the Aviv), they had to develop some means of guessing when the first shocks of barley in Israel would be Aviv. That means was soon to be the Rabbinical Jewish Calendar.

In the fourth century, a man named Hillel II developed a mathematical calendar that approximates the ripening of the Aviv barley in the Land of Israel reasonably well. It does this by calculating the movements of the sun, the earth and the moon with reference to the Spring Equinox. This calendar helped to keep the idea of a Torah Calendar alive for some two thousand years, so it definitely had a purpose. However, it also has some serious drawbacks, chief among which is the fact that it does not use the means given in Torah for establishing the Head of the Year.

The Hillel II Calendar reinforces the practice our Jewish brothers picked up in Babylon, of calling the months by names (rather than by ordinal numbers). For example, the Hillel II Calendar calls the first month of the year “Nisan.” However, this same month is also called “The Month of Aviv,” as if the name “Aviv” meant simply, “spring” (which is what the term translates to in Modern Hebrew).

Exodus 13:4
4 “On this day in the month of the Aviv, you are about to go forth.”

(4) הַיּוֹם אַתֶּם יֹצְאִים | בְּחֹדֶשׁ הָאָבִיב

Notice, however, that Exodus 13:4 does not say that the Exodus took place in the “the Month called Aviv” (אָבִיב). Rather, it tells us that the first month of the year is the month that begins in the month of the Aviv (הָאָבִיב). In other words, the Head of the Year takes place on the New Moon Day after the first complete shocks of Aviv barley are seen in the Land of Israel.

Some correctly point out that the Aviv barley mentioned in Exodus 9:31 was not spotted in the Land of Israel, but in the Land of Egypt. While this is true, we should remember that the children of Israel were simply looking for the Aviv where YHWH’s Presence dwelt at that time, and YHWH’s Presence has not dwelt outside the Land of Israel since the conquest of the Land of Canaan. Scripture tells us that YHWH’s eyes are now always upon the Land of Israel.

Devarim (Deuteronomy) 11:12
12 “…a land for which YHWH your Elohim cares; the eyes of YHWH your Elohim are always on it, from the beginning of the year to the very end of the year.”

There are other reasons it is important to base the Head of the Year on the ripening of the Aviv barley in the Land of Israel (and not in any other place). Barley is grown in many regions of the world, and it ripens at all different times. For example, in semi-tropical areas (such as in Arizona and in Texas), barley is considered a winter crop. However, in temperate areas (such as Idaho, Montana and Washington State), barley is grown as a summer crop. Add to this the fact that the barley in the Southern Hemisphere (in places such as Australia, New Zealand and South Africa) usually ripens opposite the barley in the Northern Hemisphere, and there is no uniformity to the ripening of barley throughout the world. Consider that if each Israelite were to set the Head of the Year based on the ripening of barley in his own locality, Israelites all over the world would keep His festivals at all different times. This would be contrary to the example set by the disciples in the first century.

Ma’asim (Acts) 2:1-2
1 When the day of Pentecost had come, they were all together in one place.
2 And suddenly there came from heaven a noise like a violent rushing wind, and it filled the whole house where they were sitting.

As we explained in the first chapter of this book (and in Nazarene Israel), the Apostle Shaul tells us YHWH’s festivals are prophetic shadow pictures of things which are still to come. YHWH fulfills prophecies on His festival days; and not surprisingly, He fulfills them on the Jerusalem calendar.

In the first century, blessings were poured out upon the faithful who had come up to Jerusalem in order to keep the Feast of Pentecost. However, they had to be there when the feast was being celebrated in Jerusalem. Had they been keeping their own calendars, based on the ripening of the barley and the observation of the New Moons in their own localities, they would probably have missed the outpouring.

Finally, we should reiterate that there is no real limit to how many months a Hebrew year can last. While there are ‘normally’ twelve months in the year, with a leap month every two or three years, a true Hebrew year can be any length of time, depending upon the weather YHWH brings. If He brings a cold winter with little rain and sun, the barley can be very late in maturing, and the year could hypothetically be fourteen months long (or even longer). Then the next year, if the winter is warm and wet and the barley ripens early, the winter could hypothetically be eleven months. Everything depends upon the weather YHWH sends.

The Torah Calendar is perhaps not as popular as other calendars, primarily because it is not as easy to keep. Since the Head of the Year and the Head of the Month need to be physically observed from the Land of Israel, it is difficult to plan very far in advance. This puts the Torah Calendar at a distinct disadvantage with regards to pre-calculated calendars such as the Rabbinical Calendar, in which one can reserve Passover facilities literally years in advance. However, what this kind of patient waiting and observing speaks to is Israel’s role as a bride, who is supposed to put off trusting in her own right arm, to wait patiently upon her Husband, and His trustworthy provision.

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