A MESSAGE FROM THE RABBI
Look on the Horizon!!!!! It is Mount Sinai, from which the Ten Commandments and the Torah were given To the Israelites. Shavuot, which begins Thursday evening, commemorates our receipt of the Torah from God. It comes at the end of a 49-day countdown which started at the second Seder of Passover.
Our Biblical ancestors began this counting ritual. On the Second Day of Passover, an offering was made of an Omer (of barley). From that point forward, our ancestors counted every day for 49 days. After the completion of this ritual, by which the Israelites showed their gratitude for the grain, the people were allowed to enjoy eating the produce of the new harvest.
When the Temple was destroyed and the Jewish people became less agricultural, this ritual might have quietly faded. However, through the brilliance of the Rabbis, the Counting of the Omer was maintained as a spiritual practice. The 49 days from Passover to Shavuot became known as the transition from being enslaved in Egypt to freely encountering God at Mt Sinai. For each of these 49 days we acknowledge one more step in our journey toward spiritual and emotional freedom.
But counting the Omer serves another purpose. Through it we can, not only keep track of time, but we can mark changes in our selves as well. Each evening after sundown (which is the beginning of the next day on the Jewish calendar) we put aside what we are doing and say the ritual words “Today is the XX day of the counting of the Omer.”
It is not by accident that the Omer is counted “up”, from 1 to 49, and not “down”.
The journey from freedom to the receipt of the Torah is a march of elevation toward holiness. Each day we rise higher and higher in our desire to be closer to God and to the Divine that exists within each of us.
Another way to look at this is that when we count down, we have a finite end point. Once we reach zero, the count is over. In theory, if we count up, we can count forever, or until we are ready to stop. The notion of limitlessness can either be exhilarating or it can be exhausting. But it provides one more beautiful piece to our tradition. We are counting until we are ready to receive Torah. The count up can be can be limitless, but we choose to stop at 49 days, every year, because we are calling out to the world that we are ready to receive the Torah. We always have the choice to keep going and, yet, we always choose to receive God’s holy gift. That is beautiful and empowering.
This year counting, and marking our days, takes on a new significance. How many days have we been in isolation? How many days have we been in limbo? How many days will it continue?
I think that we should ask ourselves an additional question. When our ancestors left slavery and became free, they received, and carried with them, the Torah, a book of just, righteous, and compassionate laws. They received and nurtured a treasure that would guide them on how to live better lives.
What is the Torah that we will receive at the end of our quarantine? What will we bring with us as we emerge from our shelters and re-enter the world?
One thing that I have learned is that our JCC Community is full of kind, caring, and innovative people. You feel a connection to the JCC, and to our Jewish traditions, and you are willing to try new things. You don’t just try new things, you engage in them and you do so vibrantly. You are making the world a better place. For me, you have been a blessing.
Please email, phone, text me, or join one of our Zoom services or programs and tell me what you have learned from this experience.
One more thing!!! In much of the non-orthodox world, the Omer is not a tradition that is followed with any regularity. One of the silver linings of our current situation is that, because of our Zoom Services, there were several people who, for the first time in their lives, counted each of the 49 days!!!!! Each one is now eligible to become members of the “Cal Ripken Omer Counting Hall of Fame” (Formerly known as the Lou Gehrig Omer Counting Hall of Fame).
Count, make an accounting, receive, and give. The Torah, our Torah, is waiting for each of us.
Chag Shavuot Sameach – Rabbi Michael S. Jay