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May 9, 2014  RSS feed
Rabbinically Speaking

Text: T T T

Teach us to number our days

Rabbinically Speaking
By Rabbi Daniele Upbin Cong. Beth Shalom, Clearwater

Remember “The Count”? No, not Bella Lugosi! The other “Count ... From Sesame Street! Count von Count. He had a compulsive desire to count and took great pleasure in it. Well, he might very well have been the mascot of the Jewish people.

Jews love to count, too. We count the days from Shabbos to Shabbos. In Hebrew, the days of the week are numbered, not named; we count hours between eating milk and meat; on Passover, we count sets of four, we count stars to transition from sacred to ordinary time; we count people to create a quorum; on the Jewish New Year we take an accounting of the soul; twice daily, we count the oneness of our God. Currently, we find ourselves in the countdown of seven weeks between Passover and Shavuot, also known as, the Omer.

Counting anchors us in time and space. We are not only cognizant of the Gregorian calendar; we keep a close eye on the lunar calendar as well. Our rootedness in ancient days keeps us connected to the future. We care deeply about our dual dating because we have our feet dipped in two worlds. We have such a good understanding of calendaring that we can even calculate the unlikely occurrence of Hanukkah and Thanksgiving ever coinciding again.

As secularists, when we cycle into the first days of a Gregorian month, we embrace the joy of turning the page of our calendar, or swiping our finger down a calendar App. But in celebrating the new Jewish month, we do not just mark elapsed time, we embark on a spiritually charged journey, a new beginning, celebrating the sacred moment as a mini festival.

This time of year is especially poignant for counters. As we ascend the days of the Omer, we stop at varying sign posts along the way, recognizing that our tradition is not fossilized, but is augmented through our contemporary experience and observance.

In our counting of the days between Passover and Shavuot, we pause to recall the souls who perished in the Shoah (27th of Nisan), gathering to light candles and share testimonies to honor the living and the dead. We stand in silence on Yom Hazikaron (4th of Iyyar) to recall the fallen soldiers who risked their lives to secure a Jewish homeland. Our silence breaks into revelry and song as we celebrate and commemorate Israeli statehood and freedom on Yom Ha’atzmaut (5th of Iyyar). We transition from a period of sadness into a time of greater hope with Lag Ba’Omer, (the 33rd day of the Omer) with bonfires and outings, or in our own community – a concert! On Shavuot (6th and 7th of Sivan), we revel in the Festival of Weeks (and in the joy of cheesecake!) celebrating the moment of the giving of Torah at Sinai as well as the continually unfolding gift of revelation.

Historically, the counting of the Omer was the counting of the perilous days of the hot wind season (chamsin), which coincided with the time when the farmer’s wheat was growing in the field. During these 50 days (chamishim) between Passover and Shavuot, the Israelite farmer would bring a measure of grain, an Omer, to the Temple. This offering was an act of thanksgiving for protection of the wheat that was standing in the field. Shavuot is the harvest festival of that wheat as well as of the first fruits of other crops.

Today, the counting of the Omer provides us with our own opportunity to be reflective and thankful – for the bounty of our own fruits, for the blessing of our days.

As the Psalmist declares: “Teach us to number our days so that we might attain a heart of wisdom” (Psalm 90:2). As we navigate this season of highs and lows, let us be counted among the counters, participating in our own community celebrations and commemorations. Like our ancestors before us, let us be inspired to take a moment each day to give thanks for the blessing of peoplehood and tradition, for the opportunity to be connected. Through our own efforts, may we, too, grow in wisdom and in spirit.

The Rabbinically Speaking column is provided as a public service by the Jewish Press in cooperation with the Pinellas County Board of Rabbis. Columns are assigned, on a rotating basis by the board.

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