These things have no fixed measure: the corner of the field, the first fruit offering, the pilgrim’s offering, acts of generosity, and Torah study.
Rooted in the life of an agricultural community, the Mishnah extols life grounded in the soil—in field and fruit, and in the soul—through the pilgrim’s offerings, generosity, and learning. At its best, the world could be characterized by beracha—blessing—which is the breaking of bounds for the good.
In this season and in these times, we so need to take heart in the world’s capacity for abundance! We might join our celebration of overflow to the exclamation of the Mishnah, an ancient rabbinic voice that happily praises certain things that have no fixed measure:
But all things without measure begin with a measured step. The Mishnah, like the crops it describes, is rooted. After all, if there is no yield to the ways of careful planting, there will be no yield of sustaining and overflowing crops. Abundance begins with measure:
The corner of the field measure should not be less than one-sixtieth. For even though the early sages said that the corner had no measure, everything is according to the size of the field, the number of the poor, and the amount of the yield.
The Mishnah’s abundance begins with the soil. We might say that the poet, Rivka Miriam, begins with the soul:
These are things for which there is no fixed measure:
the laughter, the blue, and the moment.
But more than abundance unending, Rivka recognizes moments of beginning in her poem. It is not abundance that she most cherishes. Rather, she celebrates the discrete acts—known and unknown—that are the beginnings of overflow:
But it is from anguish that blue comes to me
and from the bell comes the laughter.
And the moment comes on its own.
She forcefully wards off a content and complacent feeling of entitlement to the world’s overflow:
Don’t come near me! I whispered, warning,
I want to be constrained,
contracted as a shout and as final as an ending.
I don’t want to be without measure.
I persist in my stance.
I deploy my voice before me, like a bulwark
while laughter, blue, and moment extend within me
They prod me
That which the poet adds to the Mishnah gives voice to our family’s personal joy and thankfulness. In light of my recent cancer diagnosis, our family has received sustaining acts of extended community rooted in the soil and soul of measured deeds. Meals, visits, letters, contributions, prayers, and more continue to come our way. Each act of kindness and concern prods us without measure, reminding us of the abundance that, in the end, is beyond measure.