On the 2nd night of Passover, it is traditional to begin counting the omer. What is the omer you might ask, and why are we counting it? Good questions.
The seven-week period between Passover and Shavuot constitutes the “counting of the omer.” Omer, or “barley sheaf,” refers to the Temple offering brought on the second day of Passover. It is customary to incorporate an accounting of the days between these holidays into daily liturgy by announcing what number day (as well as a corresponding count in terms of weeks) before the conclusion of a service.
Most significant, though, about this period of quantification, is the countdown to Shavuot. Although a relatively minor observance in most of the Jewish world today, Shavuot is one of the “Big Three,” the three major pilgrimage festivals of the Bible, alongside Sukkot and Passover.
The omer ties us to the agricultural dimension of Shavuot, which is the conclusion of the seven-week grain harvest in the land of Israel, celebrated by bringing the “first fruits” of the seven Biblical species for which the land of Israel is praised.
Today, by far, the more important dimension of Shavuot is neither counting the eponymous “weeks,” nor the late spring harvest festival. Spiritually, Shavuot commemorates “Matan Torah,” the giving of the Torah to Moses and the Jewish people on Mount Sinai. Because of this direct link to accepting God’s commandments, Shavuot has also become the customary season in which to celebrate confirmation, our teens graduation from their religious education.
The journey from Exodus to Revelation is an arduous one. Our Biblical ancestors traveled a circuitous route, chosen by God, begun with the epic escape from the Egyptians at the Sea of Reeds. They complain to Moses, are appeased, and complain again. They vanquish Amalek. They worry. They believe. Then they question that’s all before they receive Torah.
Sinai is only the beginning of another, altogether more complex one. Living up to the Torah is no easy task. It wasn’t in the Bible. It wasn’t for the Rabbis of our tradition. And it certainly isn’t for us today. Yet the journey continues, and the Torah will guide our path into the future.
At Temple, we’ve traversed a significant challenge. It seems like the challenges of the past few months should have been insurmountable. Despite this, though, we are succeeding. But even when we reach that goal, a new journey will take its place. Like Moses and the tablets he brought to the people, the heavy lifting has just begun. We must now continue to shape the Temple Israel of tomorrow/the future. Who will that temple community be? What will we choose to learn and to teach? What will our role be in the community – both the Jewish community and the interfaith one as well?
As we pick up the tablets like Moses on Sinai, let us not be discouraged by the weight of the challenge ahead. Let us instead be inspired by the very essence of our shared Jewish values. Let us be compelled by their vision of the world that is possible.
Apropos of our shared values, please also join us for Shavuot morning services on Sunday, May 24, as we celebrate the graduation of Talia White, Gregory Woodward, and Michael Woodward. These three young people represent not only an essential element of our mission as a congregation, to raise and educate our future Jewish community at its leaders, they also represent everything that is possible. Their futures are bright indeed, and we can all share in their accomplishments, which reflect the very best of our Jewish values.