There are seven weeks between the beginning of Pesach and the next major Jewish festival of Shavuot. This period is known as the Days of the Counting of the Omer. An Omer was an offering of grain brought the Temple in ancient times. Intimately connected to the agricultural cycle, the daily offering was both an expression of gratitude to God and a supplication for a productive earth and harvest season. A deep awareness of connection with the Creator and the Earth was offered each evening of the Omer by our ancestors.
The seven weeks also link Pesach, the festival of physical liberation with Shavuot, the festival of the Giving of Torah at Sinai, spiritual awareness and a unique covenant with the Divine. Each day on the way to Sinai is seen by our wisdom teachers as an opportunity for self-improvement and collective fulfillment. Throughout the centuries our teachers have offered us daily practices to help us prepare for Sinai and a harvesting of the spirit.
Regretfully, in modern times, this consciousness has been lost to most Jews. Most of our people are not aware of Sefirat haOmer, the Counting of the Omer, and the connection between Pesach, Sinai and ourselves. Our Jewish upbringing has been weak in this regard. What can be done about this? Should we consider restoring certain practices that have fallen away due to poor Jewish educations?
When I was a teenager every Shabbat afternoon between Pesach and Shavuot members of the congregation would gather with the rabbi to learn a chapter of Pirkey Avot, a short book of six chapters from the Mishna, filled with wisdom teachings. I loved it. The special shabbes foods such as kugel, herring and Mandelbrot also helped. Pirkey Avot, the Ethics of the Sages, can be found online. While not every teaching may resonate it still offers great insights into Jewish value concepts. It is also the first Rabbinic text that teaches nonviolence.
In recent years the Internet has helped greatly to revive Sefirat HaOmer through websites that offer daily reflections. They are excellent. Consider Simon Jacobson’s Meaningful Life Center or The Musar Institute websites. Jewish learning has always been an integral part of Kehila. At our upcoming Kehila retreat we will have the opportunity to learn for Professor Jonathan Ray. Register soon.
From chapter two of Pirkey Avot: Hillel would say: Do not separate yourself from the community. Do not believe in yourself until the day you die. Do not judge your fellow until you have stood in his place. Do not say something that is not readily understood in the belief that it will ultimately be understood [or: Do not say something that ought not to be heard even in the strictest confidence, for ultimately it will be heard]. And do not say "When I free myself of my concerns, I will study,'' for perhaps you will never free yourself.
Brachot, Reb David