Tonight, Wednesday Night, May 15, 2019, is twenty-six days, which is three weeks and five days of the Omer.
In Torah, sacred observances are defined in both place and time. Each year the ancient Israelites are to journey to Jerusalem to observe three festivals: Sukkot, Pesach, and Shavuot. Today, while we celebrate these holidays in the places in which we dwell, the time at which we observe them is still determined according to Torah and the Hebrew Calendar. This week’s Torah portion, Emor (Lev. 21:1-24:23) sets those times, and so, un-coincidentally, we find ourselves today in the period between Pesach and Shavuot.
In chapter 23 of Leviticus the Israelites are commanded to bring an omer (a measure of grain) at Pesach as a thanksgiving offering to God for a successful and abundant crop. They are also commanded to then count off seven weeks and bring another offering of thanksgiving on Shavuot. As Israelite society became less agricultural and more urban, the rabbis sought to bring additional meaning to the connection between the two holidays.
For us today, “to count the Omer” means to mark each passing day from the second day of Pesach to Shavuot, 49 days later. Our tradition acknowledges Shavuot as the day on which God gave the Israelites the gift of Torah at Mt. Sinai. We count the days, and in so doing, build anticipation and create a connection between the anniversary of being freed from Egypt and the responsibility that comes with receiving God’s revelation. Whether or not counting the Omer is part of our personal ritual practice, as each day passes may we acknowledge the beauty of our tradition and offer God our gratitude, not just for Torah, but for all the blessings in our lives.
Rabbi Sandra Bellush