May 2018 | Iyar/Sivan 5778
Dear Members, Friends, and Families of B’nai Shalom:
Even as you are reading this synagogue bulletin, we will be in the midst of “Counting the Omer”, counting the days and weeks between the festive holidays of Passover and Shavuot.
The concept of “Counting the Omer” is really a misnomer but it is one that has comfortably found itself within the lexicon and understanding of the Jewish people as THIS TIME linking these two holidays. The term “omer” is really a measurement of grain and it is at this time, between Passover and Shavuot in Temple days, when we Jews were commanded to bring a daily grain offering – an omer’s worth to the Bayt HaMikdash, the Holy Temple as a sign and representation of thanks to our creator, G-d. With the destruction of the Temple, twice, we can no longer bring our omer offerings but we continue the counting of days and weeks between these two festivals as commanded in the Torah and to keep alive this ritual until the time of the building of the third, and final Bayt HaMikdash in Jerusalem.
One might ask why we link these particular two holidays? What is it about them that is worth connecting the two through this “omer” period? We do not connect the holidays of Purim or Chanukah, or Tu Bishvat and Lag B’Omer. Why THESE two celebrations?
Passover is the time of our freedom : “Zman Cheyruteinu”. Without the freedom to come and go, choose and decide, think and act for ourselves, there would be no sovereign Jewish people as we exist today. Undoubtedly, we would have disappeared years ago under the hardship of slavery at the hands of Pharaoh and the Egyptian taskmasters. With the holiday of Passover, we gained the privilege of autonomy and being able to exist within a framework of freedom of movement, action, and decision.
However, we learn that this is grossly insufficient. So we are free to act as liberated individuals? So what? If not directed with wise guidance and counsel, we could be as directionless as the most rudderless anarchists. We would exist but would have no purpose or focus in our lives. It takes the framework of Torah and its 613 commandments PLUS all of their corollaries, subsets, and interpretations to direct us within the framework of freedom that we gained on Passover. It is the holiday of Shavuot at the far end of the 49 days of the Omer that we celebrate for our having received G-d’s most precious gift, his Torah, OUR Torah.
With the freedom we acquired on Passover to be able to observe the folkways, mores, and values of the holy Torah which we received on Shavuot, our lives are made complete by the combination of the two: a holy and precious doctrine to help guide our lives and the freedom with which to comply with and conform to the prized mitzvot, the commandments found therein.
It is the Counting of the Omer, the 49-day period from Passover to Shavuot, that links these two holidays for us, reminding
us that without either of the prizes we gained on these two holy occasions, we could not be the Jewish nation that we are today, together with the responsibility of the holy leadership with which we have been imbued and the privilege of doing G-d’s work at all times with which we have been blessed.
With Torah blessings,
Rabbi Dr. Yaacov Dvorin