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Monday, August 31, 2015

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Slowly counting the Omer

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While the holiday of Pesach is still being celebrated, we also begin to count the days of the Omer. The counting of the Omer will ultimately result in counting seven weeks until the holiday of Shavuot.

In biblical times, this period of counting was one of great anticipation and joy. The climax of the counting, Shavuot, was one of the three pilgrimage festivals and the beginning of one of the harvests. The whole nation was on the move, and the resulting marketplace and national unity celebration is probably unimaginable to us.

Today, we signify Shavuot as the celebration of the giving and the receiving of the Torah at Mount Sinai. It’s a time that the Jewish nation stood together and announced with one voice that we wholeheartedly receive the Torah. The fact that we all agreed on something is cause enough for celebration, but agreeing on the Torah is truly an essential cause to celebrate.

When we look at the two holidays, Pesach and Shavuot, it’s interesting that they both speak of redemption, but in very different ways. On Pesach, we were redeemed from slavery in Egypt, and at Mount Sinai we are redeemed through receiving the Torah. The first is a physical redemption, while the second is a spiritual redemption.

And yet both of these events take time and are hardly instantaneous. The process of leaving Egypt is lengthy, as evidenced by the 10 plagues. We arrive at Mount Sinai and spend at least two years hearing the laws and studying the vision for our new society.

In today’s world, we are very accustomed to instant gratification. If our phone takes more than 10 seconds to turn on we become frustrated. The Internet had better load the page we’re looking for quickly, or we’ll click on another link. And Facebook will upload the pictures of our lives in the blink of an eye. It’s no wonder we expect our redemptive moments to be quick and instant.

But we know that anything of value must take its time. Counting the weeks of the Omer allows us to value time itself. We recognize that we’re leading toward something worthwhile, and we anticipate the advent of the holiday. Each day we count is a day that brings us closer. As well, counting is a countercultural act, in that it slows things down, while during the rest of our day, we use technology to speed things up.

The Torah represents our spiritual redemption. A beautiful midrash in the Jerusalem Talmud emphasizes these lessons when two sages are walking at daybreak. They see the light of dawn through the darkness, and one Sage remarks, “My friend, behold how the dawn grows stronger and stronger. So shall our Redemption be: at first, a little, then more and more.”

Rachael Turkienicz is director of rachaelscentre.org.

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