Congregation Etz Chaim of DuPage County

Shavuot - The Counting of Omer

Wed, 05/02/2012 - 12:00am -- Rabbi Bob



Each Wednesday at this time of the year, our Hebrew school students find pictures of a popular animated television character on the door to the sanctuary. Each Wednesday we attach pictures of Homer Simpson to this door. Today the students will see 25 pictures of Homer Simpson on the sanctuary door. Why Homer? Why 25? Each Wednesday between Pesach and Shavuot we count the pictures of Homer. This is to help the students understand that we are counting the Omer.

When the Temple stood in Jerusalem, on the second day of Passover an omer of barley was cut down and brought to the Temple as an offering. This grain offering was referred to as the Omer. We can no longer bring an omer of barley to the temple, but still Jews count the Omer to mark the days between Pesach and Shavuot.

Pesach and Shavuot are linked together. In our tradition they have equal status. I recognize that Pesach is a far more popularly observed holiday among Jews today. But Pesach is only half the story. On Pesach we celebrate freedom. We recall that God took us out of Egypt with a mighty hand and an outstretched arm.

The freedom we celebrate on Pesach is not freedom to go where you want to go, do what you want to do. God does not take us out of Egypt and say, "Have a nice day." God takes us out of Egypt for a specific purpose. God delivers us from slavery in order to go to Sinai and receive the Torah. Pesach commemorates the beginning of the story. Shavuot commemorates the conclusion.

In our congregation we have created new rituals to celebrate Shavuot. The giving of the Torah at Mount Sinai is traditionally called Ma’amad Har Sinai, standing at Mount Sinai. On Shavuot we fully unroll the Torah scroll. It encircles the congregation. Leaders of the congregation hold the scroll. We stand inside the circle. Young people who have become Bar/Bat Mitzvah since last Shavuot will stand in front of their Torah portions. In turn, they will each read their Torah portions.

We observe Ma’amad Har Sinai, standing at Mount Sinai by standing and hearing the words of Torah. In hearing these words read by our young people, we link ourselves to those who first heard the words of Torah. We link ourselves to those who have studied these words of Torah over the centuries. We link ourselves to those who will study them in years to come.

We count the Omer from Pesach to Shavuot to connect the Exodus from Egypt to the revelation at Sinai. We count the Omer to remind ourselves of the approach of Shavuot. If today is the 25th day in the counting of the Omer, we can know that Shavuot is 24 days away, on May 26th.

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