DAY BY DAY – Rabbi Elizabeth Tikvah Sarah
Every year the Jewish people journeys from Shabbat to Shabbat, from Festival to Festival, in an endless cycle, year after year, l’dor va-dor, from generation to generation. Nevertheless, the journey from Pesach to Shavuot is unique. Connected by the seven weeks of counting, day by day, from the second day of Pesach until Shavuot on the 50th day, this particular journey is marked by a daily rite that recalls the presentation of the omer, the sheaf of grain that was waived by the priest each day during this period in Temple times (see Emor, Leviticus 23:9-20).
What are we doing when we count the omer? Are we simply practising a ritual prescribed by the rabbis? The journey from Pesach to Shavuot mirrors the Exodus journey of our ancestors from Egypt to Sinai. The Haggadah, the ‘telling’ of the Exodus tale at the Seder, reminds us that in every generation ‘each one of us should consider ourselves as if we had, personally, gone out of Egypt.’ So, do we think about being on a journey from slavery, through liberation, towards commitment and responsibility, as we count the omer? Of course, our ancestors probably thought only about taking flight as they went out of Egypt and had no notion of what awaited them as the third month began, following the departure. That is because what lay ahead of them, really was unknown. So, how can we really identify with their experience? After all, we know their story inside out.
We cannot be them. But what we could do is make our own journey, day by day, from Pesach to Shavuot. We could think about the ways in which we live in bondage – chained to the endless routines of our daily schedules, in thrall to the god of consumerism, dependent on the familiar structures that govern our lives. If we do this, then we might begin to acknowledge that although we are not oppressed by a tyrant and persecuted by cruel taskmasters, in a significant sense, like our ancestors, we, too, are slaves. We could also think about what freedom means to us: Do we long for it? Do we fear it? And we might also consider what we would do with our freedom, if we had it.
Our ancestors’ journey out of Egypt took them to the foot of Mount Sinai. As Shavuot approaches, we are challenged to reflect about our own relationship to the Eternal. According to the Torah, when Moses read from the Book of the Covenant, the people responded, na’aseh v’nishma – ‘we will do and we will listen.’ (Mishpatim, Exodus 24:7). Some of us are very scrupulous about the doing side of this equation, but are we as good at listening? Do we listen out for the voice of the Eternal in the context of our own lives? The unique Omer period invites us to go on a journey. May the ritual of the daily counting, encourage us to make our ancestors’ journey, our own.