By Rabbi Scott Nagel
On the Second day of Passover, Judaism begins counting.
We count the 49 days from the day we left Egypt (the second day of Passover, as we spent the first night being passed over) to our receiving the Torah on Mount Sinai on the 50th day.
We celebrate the 50th day with the holiday of Shavuot, because it is on that day we finally get clear instructions and expectations of how to live our new lives in freedom. This process is called counting the Omer, or in Hebrew S’firat haOmer.
The Torah instructs on the counting: “You shall count for yourselves from the day after the day of rest [the first day of Passover], from the day you brought the Omer of the wave offering; seven complete weeks there shall be, until the day after the seventh week shall you number 50 days…” (Leviticus 22:15).
This year we began counting the Omer on the evening of Sunday, March 28.
These 49 days are a lesson in mindfulness and gratitude, a reminder of a time in our history when we moved from the uncertainty of leaving everything we knew to knowing our relationship with God and our place in the world.
Part of the practice of counting the Omer includes a blessing in which we say Hineini, “Here I am,” each day, to concretize our intention and attention to the passage of time and the opportunity that our freedom gives us to observe and practice Judaism in our own way.
The Omer is an uncertain time, due to the fact that during this period in history we had not yet received the Torah, our guide for daily living. There is also a legend that during this period, 24,000 of Rabbi Akiva’s students died, and thus the Omer is also considered to be a time of semi-mourning. Therefore, there is a tradition to observe some mourning practices during these weeks – including the limiting of weddings, haircuts, listening or dancing to instrumental music, and purchasing or wearing new clothing.
According to Ashkenazi custom, the 33rd day of the Omer count, called Lag BaOmer (meaning “the 33rd day of the Omer”) is a holiday, giving us a break from the semi-mourning restrictions of the Omer, and for some groups the mourning period ends at this 33rd day. This is in keeping with the tradition that on Lag BaOmer the plague halted and no more of Rabbi Akiva’s students died. Lag BaOmer is a popular day for weddings, and also haircuts!
This year, Lag BaOmer falls on the evening of Thursday April 29.
The counting and the celebration are all about recognizing and celebrating the Greatest Gift we have ever received – The Torah! There is no better way to mark the occasion than to Torah Study.
In fact, many communities hold an all-night Torah study on Shavuot to celebrate receiving the Torah, and we are supposed to study the text of Mishnah Pirkei Avot 6:6 during the Omer which lists the 48 traits one must master in order to acquire Torah.
So in celebration of Torah in a year where gathering as a community for study is not possible, Congregation Beth Ahabah has selected a Sweet 16 of texts for study in the 16 days following Lag BaOmer until Shavuot.
Each day, Congregation Beth Ahabah will send a link to your email with a match-up of two texts for study, including some commentary and thought questions.
After studying the texts, we ask you to please vote for the text that you found more meaningful or inspiring! The first 8 days will be Round One. The next 4 days will pit the winners of Round One against each other in Round Two.
Our semifinals will take place the next two days followed by the final on day 48 of the Omer and we will announce the winner on day 49, just in time for Shavuot on the 50th day!
Forget March Madness – this is May Madness for Torah as we will send the first email on May 1, 2021, corresponding with the 34th day of the Omer!
See the bracket image accompanying this text for a sneak preview of our texts and we look forward to spending 5-10 minutes each day in the study of Torah together!
All Congregation Beth Ahabah Members will automatically receive our Omer daily email (beginning on the 34th day of the Omer).
If you are not a member and would like to be included in our May Madness Torah Study Bracket please send your name and email address to firstname.lastname@example.org.
For more information about the Omer, see our Omer Resources page: www.bethahabah.org/omer-resources.