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Count Down to Revelation and Meaning

I feel like I have been living in the Omer for the better part of a year.

The Omer is the seven-week period in between Passover and Shavuot. According to tradition every evening, beginning on the second night of Passover, we recite a blessing and count: “Today is five days of the Omer.”

I have now been counting the days, and weeks, since last year’s seders and perhaps even from last year’s Purim celebrations. I feel like what was only supposed to last for weeks, and then months, now promises to last for at best six seasons.

The trepidation associated with the Omer is now our daily existence.

The Omer represents a mysterious custom. In ancient times, when our lives were more intimately tied to the land, we counted the sheaves of grain (omer). Passover was tied to the barley harvest and Shavuot to that of wheat. There was great worry, and even fear, about the impending harvest. Will the harvest be plentiful enough? Will our grain stores last us through the summer and into the fall, before the fall harvest of Sukkot?

This is why some suggest the tradition assigned semi-mourning practices to this Omer period. Weddings are not celebrated. Large dinners, and even dancing, are even forbidden. When is the last time you danced on a crowded dance floor?

These restrictions are lifted on Lag B’Omer (the thirty third day of the Omer). Why?

The tradition suggests a legend. During the second century, thousands of Rabbi Akiva’s students died from a mysterious plague. The Talmud reports the number to be 24,000. But then just as mysteriously the plague ended, and the deaths ceased, on Lag B’Omer. And thus, in remembrance of this miracle, the mourning ends on the thirty third day of the Omer.

The Omer also connects the theme of Passover to that of Shavuot. Passover celebrates our going free from Egypt and Shavuot the giving of the Torah on Mount Sinai. And thus, we count the days in anticipation of marrying our freedom to its revealed meaning. The freedom granted to us on Passover is given its import on Shavuot.

Will this summer offer us similar revelation? Will our lives then have even greater meaning?

The Omer, and its mystery, and most particularly its tragic deaths, its trepidation and fear, makes me feel like we are living in similar times.

And what is the tradition’s response? Keep counting. And say a blessing.

Give thanks to God. For when all else eludes you it is always better to fill your soul with gratitude and reverence.

This is always the best medicine. Then, and now.

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