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Emor 5782 - Seven Weeks and Seven Days to Revelation

Friday, May 13, 2022 - Iyar 13, 5782

Every night, from the second evening of Pesah until Shavuot, we count the omer. On that second night of Pesah, we say a blessing and state, “Tonight is the first night of the omer.” We continue counting, with reference to the number of days and weeks we have experienced so far. During this time, with the exception of a few days, we refrain from shaving, haircuts, and celebratory activities like weddings. Our annual practice derives from this week’s parashah:

…When you enter the land that I am giving to you and you reap its harvest, you shall bring the first sheaf of your harvest to the priest. [...] And you shall count (u’sfartem lakhem) from the day after the Shabbat, from the day that you bring the sheaf of elevation offering; they shall be seven complete weeks. Until the day after the seventh Shabbat, you shall count (tisp’ru) fifty days, and you shall bring a new grain offering to Adonai (23:10, 15-16).

Between the verses mentioned, the Torah explains specific rules for these offerings. Although Pesah began as a holiday based both in agriculture and historical memory, in Torah, Shavuot is only mentioned with regards to agriculture. Biblically, s’firat ha-omer marks the time between the beginning of the barley harvest, or Pesah, and the beginning of the wheat harvest, or Shavuot (Ramban). Our counting expresses both the excitement and nervousness of anticipation; we are ready for the plenty to come, if only the plenty comes! We incorporate just a little bit of mourning ritual into our counting, as we anxiously wait to see how much food has grown from our hard work in the months beforehand. Finally, on Shavuot, we thank God, literally for the produce we have at our hands. Figuratively, we thank God for the plenty we have in our lives, acknowledging that we could never have achieved what we have alone; God and others have paved our way.

As the Jewish people became less agriculturally oriented over time, the Talmudic rabbis and their descendents began to focus more on spiritual and symbolic meanings for these fifty days. As Shavuot became synonymous with the giving of Torah on Mount Sinai, s’firat ha-omer, the counting of the omer, became the journey between the hurried, wandering freedom of the Exodus, to the freedom of guidance and companionship provided by Torah. Each night, we count our blessings and await what we might learn when we stand before Sinai once more, on Shavuot.

Today, in Shreveport, s’firat ha-omer often occupies the same space as standardized testing, finals, and graduations at school. If Pesah comes early enough in the Gregorian calendar, taxes enter the mix. As we are at any time of the year, we are busy - how could we possibly remember to count the omer every evening? Why might this counting actually matter?

I remember the first year I successfully counted each and every day of the omer. Rabbi Feivel and I had just moved back from Israel, and we brought back a little wooden omer counter, with each of the days on a little scroll with knobs and a view window. Each night, we kept each other accountable. Between all of the business of the day - commuting all over every suburb of Los Angeles and San Diego for school, work, and family, we reminded each other of our need to take at least this one moment together to focus on ourselves and on the God for whom both of us were rushing. 

Over the years, along with our trusty wooden counter, we have developed a few different ways to remember counting the omer. A couple years ago, I posted a new text I had learned onto Facebook each day of the omer, and last year, I relied on my bullet journal for support. This year, Rabbi Feivel has set an alarm for us to count each evening - regardless of where we are or whatever we’re doing, we step away and count together. I’ve seen others use posters, apps, or books filled with Kabbalistic interpretations. For a household of one or ten, s’firat ha-omer can act as a two-minute practice to remind us of our Jewishness every day and every night. It can prompt us to acknowledge our partnership with God, along with present and past humanity, in bringing us the blessings we have today. For a family who lives together or two friends who count together over Facetime, it can be a nightly time to reconnect, to make that eye contact and check in on the day’s emotions and activities. For those who aspire to daven each evening, the practice can give us a little push to open our siddur and begin. Like with each candle on each night of Hanukah, s’firat ha-omer can even give us the chance to create nightly prompts for thought or to add on nightly to a creative or practical project we have been setting to the side for far too long.

The Torah categorizes the practices of s’firat ha-omer and Shavuot as eternal, l’doroteikhem b’khol moshvoteikhem, for your generations, everywhere you dwell. No matter how busy we are, no matter where and with whom we live, s’firat ha-omer gives us opportunities for mindfulness, gratitude, and new focus on our Jewish identities. As Midrash teaches about the Israelites’ excitement, counting the days until Mount Sinai, I look forward to celebrating that moment of revelation with you in just 22 days! Shabbat Shalom.

Thu, April 18 2024 10 Nisan 5784