Earlier this week at our Seders, we experienced being slaves in Egypt and left with God’s help to begin traveling to the Promised Land. When the Israelites reached the Sea of Reeds, they realized they were being pursued by Pharoah’s army of chariots and horses. After the initial panic, they knew they couldn’t turn back and be enslaved by the Egyptians once again, so they took the next step with faith and walked into the water. The sea split, leaving them with land to cross to the other side. As the last reached dry land, the waters closed in on the Egyptians, and the Israelites were free. They celebrated with poetry in song, danced, and played musical instruments.

countingtheomerThe Israelites didn’t just flee from Egypt; they had a destination: the Promised Land, which had been promised to their ancestors. They had a goal. I sometimes imagine what it might have been like to leave everything behind that you knew, as the Hebrew slaves did. They uprooted themselves instead of taskmasters, afflicting them with hard labor and inhumane conditions. They needed to follow the laws and direction of God, whom they couldn’t see, and Moses and Aaron, God’s spokespeople. Overcoming Pharoah’s hardened heart and the Sea of Reeds, where they all could have drowned, they now start seven weeks of journeying through the wilderness, no landmarks, permanent shelters, and continual wandering with the throngs who had left Egypt with them. Their next destination is Mount Sinai, where they will enter the covenant with God through receiving the Torah. No wonder they would count each day of the journey when the sun had set. Every day would be the same. They gathered manna daily except for Friday, when they gathered enough for Friday and Shabbat. We have been counting the Omer since the 2nd day of Passover, Tuesday, and we will be counting the Omer, counting each day until Shavuot, 50 days or seven weeks and one day. What is the significance of counting the Omer, and how can it be meaningful for us today?

An Omer is a measure of grain, a sheaf, brought to the Temple starting on the second day of Passover and each day thereafter until Shavuot. It marked the period between planting and the spring and summer harvests. Remember, these are the planting seasons in Israel. Once the Temple was destroyed, there was no place to bring offerings anymore, so the meaning moved from the agricultural connection to more spiritual and ritual, and the counting continued.

Some bring offerings of grains for each day of the Omer and donate them to a place where people in need can be the recipients after Shavuot. Please donate to Temple Israel’s monthly Food Drive in the spirit of this holy time. It also helps us remember the agricultural connection of each pilgrimage festival for planting and harvesting different grains. While Passover was the barley harvest, it was also the time to plant wheat. This brings us to our own time and the planting and harvesting we can do or plan to do on each of the festivals. The counting of the Omer is also a period of spiritual preparation and introspection to grow and renew our faith, from remembering the slave experience and our redemption to becoming free people. This was quite a transition for the Israelites in Biblical times and offers us challenges and opportunities today.

The challenge for us, as I see it, is how to take seriously our responsibilities as free people, as Jews and as Americans, and for many of us as Zionists. We can’t assume our identity or our relationships with others; we must actively stand up for who we are and what we value and support others to do the same. Each day is important on the journey. Each action we take for ourselves and others is important as well. I encourage you to try counting the Omer yourself this year. It is another way to mark time in a meaningful way. Psalms 90:12, “Teach us to number our days rightly that we may obtain a wise heart,” gives us the direction to use our days wisely. That doesn’t mean constant productivity but intentionality.

Please join me in counting the Omer each evening or day as we move from slavery in Egypt on the journey to Mount Sinai, Shavuot. The counting takes maybe two minutes. There are many online resources that you can consult or sign up to receive in your inbox daily. The counting of the Omer is also a period of spiritual preparation and introspection to grow and renew our faith from remembering the slave experience and our redemption to become free people. Rabbi Karyn Kedar’s book Omer A Counting is available from CCAR Press https://www.ccarpress.org/, and it has spiritual material for each day. It is also available as Omer A Counting Inspirational Cards. Spiritual materials from several sources are available to come to your inbox each day. Check out Rabbi Yael Levy’s Journeying Through the Wilderness materials https://www.awayin.org/counting-the-omer gathering wisdom from Psalms and the Jewish mystical tradition.

In the backdrop of this daily rhythm, we will continue to connect with each other and come together in person and online for study, prayer, and decision-making. Enjoy the next six weeks of our ongoing journey as we move toward the elevating experience of revelation at Mount Sinai.

Please join me this Friday night, April 26th, at 6:00 PM for our Passover Yizkor Memorial Service to honor the memories of our loved ones in the Bertha Abess Sanctuary before Shabbat Services, which will continue at 6:30 PM.