Warning: This post is not about coronoavirus….AT ALL (apart from this warning of course!)
The period between Passover (celebrating the exodus from Egypt) and Shavuot (celebrating the giving of the Torah to the Jewish people on Mount Sinai) is a peculiar and confusing journey through 49 days. Shavuot is the 50th day. The name of this part of the Jewish calendar is the Omer. We count each day of the Omer from 1-49. There are different ideas surrounding this journey.
The Omer was an agricultural offering in the temple in Jerusalem and culminates with the festival of first fruits, another name for Shavuot. From a plain reading of the biblical sources, the journey from Pesach to Shavuot is part of the triannual agricultural link to the land of Israel.
For many Jews the journey today has very little to do with agriculture. Instead we focus on the spiritual journey. Like the journey of our forefathers in Egypt, who spent their time in the desert wondering and purging their slave mentality, we try to prepare ourselves to receive the Torah at the festival of Shavuot. Many orthodox Jews will not sleep on the first night of Shavuot. We stay up all night to learn and complete our preparations to receive the Torah again, a personal commitment to serve God.
Finally, the Omer is a period of mourning in the Jewish calendar. We remember the tragic death of the students of Rabbi Akiva 2,000 years ago. A plague wiped out 24,000 students. The reason given in the Babylonian Talmud, is that the students did not respect each other.
Perhaps, instead of being confusing, we need to learn the messages of all these reasons behind the counting of the Omer:
- We must celebrate and look after the environment. Whilst very few of us are directly linked to farming and agriculture, we must do everything we can to look after our planet and resources.
- We must work on our spiritual lives. Our connections to God do not always come easily. We need time to focus, every day, on our own personal relationship with God.
- We must treat each other with respect. The bible reminds us and commands us many times to look after the vulnerable in our communities.
Be nice to people! Whether it is a quick hello to a neighbour, or a thank you to a shopkeeper, this period of the Jewish calendar reminds us that we must always respect the other!
It is just over 3 weeks until we remember the Jewish people standing at Mount Sinai hearing the voice of God. Let us all use this time to listen a bit more carefully. Listen to those around you, to your own spiritual needs and to the environment and we can all make a difference every day.