#blogExodus – Counting

#blogExodus prompts

Rabbi Phyllis Sommer’s #blogExodus prompts

The interesting thing about this prompt is that the counting is not part of the Seder or its preparations. When we think about Passover, the big production tends to be the focus. But not only does the holiday itself run for seven days (eight outside Israel), it continues with the counting of the Omer, or sheaves of barley, for forty nine days, concluding with the much-neglected holiday of Shavu’ot.

While in Biblical times the counting of the Omer was related to the barley harvest, in post-Temple times the period of the Omer is one of semi-mourning, in memory of 24,000 students of Rabbi Akiva who died in a plague brought on by speaking ill of each other. The plague ceased on Lag B’Omer, the 33rd day of the Omer. During this period traditional Jews do not have haircuts, weddings or parties with music, except on Lag B’Omer itself, or possibly on Israel’s Independence Day, which falls during the Omer.

So how does any of this relate to us, here and now? Since the Omer is counting up to the holiday of Shavu’ot, traditionally associated with the giving of the Torah, many people use it as a device for self-improvement, with daily meditation or daily acts of kindness.

Shavu’ot is the third of the Torah-mandated pilgrimage festivals, during which the people of Israel were required to visit the Temple in Jerusalem. After the destruction of the Temple, the rabbis associated it with the giving of the Torah, which traditionally happened seven weeks after the Exodus from Egypt. In modern-day Israel, Shavu’ot has been given back its agricultural significance, which had been lost during the long years of Exile. Completely secular Jews decorate baskets and bring the first-fruits of the harvest, in thanksgiving for another winter of sufficient rain – not a trivial matter in the arid Middle East.

Maybe this will be the year that I will keep up with counting the Omer and building up to celebrating the giving of the Torah. Usually I lose count somewhere along the way, and the holiday sneaks up on me. The fact that in Canada it often falls on or near Victoria Day only compounds the difficulty in getting people to pay attention to Shavu’ot, which should be one of our greatest holidays, but somehow is not.

I’m hoping to make the counting of the Omer count, this year. How about you?

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