Rabbinic Reflections: Issue 59

Counting the Days

April 1, 2021

Dear Holy Friends,

I hope this correspondence finds you doing well and enjoying a festive Pesach holiday. Please accept my heartfelt thanks to those of you who have been able to join us for Zoom services during the holiday, including our congregational virtual Seder!

One of the trickiest commandments in the Torah occurs at this time of year, when we count what is referred to as the days of the Omer. These are the forty-nine days between the second day of Pesach and the holiday of Shavuoth. I like to think of this commandment as being simple, in that it only requires the recitation of a one-line blessing; yet it is complex in that we must remember to recite the benediction so many nights in a row.

When I lived in Chicago, I used to connect on the telephone with a friend of mine, each night, so we could remind the other to participate in the count. Of course, these days, thanks to technology, the Mitzvah of the counting has been made easier. Now, I receive a text message, at the appropriate hour each night, reminding me of the obligation to count. (Not to worry, I do still speak to my friend!)

While the counting of the Omer may seem like a perplexing Mitzvah, let me share with you a few interpretations of its importance according to the literature of Tanach, Kabbalah and Mussar.

In the Book of Judges, we read of Gideon the Judge, whose army of only three hundred pious men, defeated a Midianite army of 135,000 soldiers. The tradition suggests that this miraculous accomplishment was achieved only through the merit of those men performing the Mitzvah of the Omer.

Lurianic Kabbalah suggests that the counting of the Sefirat HaOmer offers us a unique opportunity to focus on aspects of God including Divine wisdom, Divine understanding, God’s lovingkindness, God’s beauty, God’s endurance, and God’s splendor.

From a Mussar perspective, we are told that the counting of the days reminds us that in our lives, each day counts. Each day represents a unique opportunity to make the world a better place and bring peace and kindness to those in our families and those in our community.

In many ways, I would like to suggest that these varied interpretations also represent the beauty of Jewish tradition and practice. For some, meaning and connection can be found in Biblical history (as with the story of the pious fighters of Gideon). Others can find meaning in the spiritual (the Kabbalistic perspective). A third individual might find meaning in the challenge of personal growth (the Mussar perspective). Whether we are observing Shabbat, celebrating Pesach or counting the Omer, each of us can and should connect to the Mitzvoth in a manner that most resonates for us.

Shabbat Shalom and Chag Sameach,

Rabbi Eric L. Wasser, EdD
201 562 5277

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