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Omer Message from the Clergy

04/19/2020 12:00:43 PM


Rabbi Scott Nagel

After you read the Message from the Clergy below, please go to the new Omer Resources page 
for Omer Counting Guides, videos, art ideas, and other information about the Omer period leading up to Shavuot!

Sun. April 19, 2020 • 12:00pm

Dear Congregation Beth Ahabah Family,

Passover is behind us, yet our responsibility of remembering and reliving the Israelites’ journey to freedom is not quite finished. 

Much like we are feeling today in the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic, the Israelites were in a period of confusion and uncertainty after leaving Egypt, having no clear knowledge of what will come next. They were very quickly thrown into a new normal, a new way of living, and did not really know how to proceed, where to go or what to do next. It was a time of transition and uncertainly. A time in between.

Judaism marks this time of anxiety for our nation, the time between their past lives and their new ones by counting. Specifically we count the 49 days from the second day of Passover (the day we left Egypt, as we spent the first night being passed over) to our receiving the Torah on Mount Sinai, when 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.

We count from 1-49 to teach us that the freedom of Passover was given to us so that we could receive the Torah on Shavuot. The counting of the Omer has a very specific method to it. Usually, when we’re anticipating something great, we count down, as kids do at the end of the school year, in the last few moments of the secular New Year, or the launching of a spacecraft: 10…9…8...7…etc. But Jewish counting is different. Each evening, we announce the number of days that have already passed, instead of those yet to come. For example, we say: Tonight, Sunday April 19, 2020 is the 11th Day, making 1 week and 4 days of the Omer. Why is it done this way? To see each day as an opportunity to react on where we’ve been, to see what today brings and to prepare for who we are yet to become. We pay attention to the passage of time, so that we spend our days wisely.

These 49 days are a lesson in mindfulness training: becoming familiar with that which we take for granted or act on automatically without contemplation.

It is exactly what has been happening in this time of social distancing and isolation. The pandemic has forced us to perform a factory reset on our lives. Our routines have stopped. Our regular patterns, habits and behaviors have stopped. Our plans have been put on hold, canceled and altered. We cannot plan too far ahead. We have been forced to be more aware of the present and be intentional in our outings, actions, and interactions. Auto-pilot is off, perhaps for first time in a long time.

When we say the Omer blessing and count each day, our tradition calls upon us to say Hineini, “Here I am,” each of these days, to cultivate our capacity to be present. With intention, our attention provides awareness and insight that we might not otherwise discover as we slowly and methodically make our way from the moment of freedom to the glory of the divine encounter of Torah at Sinai.

And as we continue to count how long we have been in isolation, we can plan how we will slowly, methodically, and intentionally make our way back out into the world again, because,God-willing, one day we will return fully into the world. We want the feeling of normalcy, to feel good again, to get back to routines of life, to get back to work outside the home, and for many the ability simply to get back to any work. The need for comfort and normalcy and return will be real and urgent, yet we can take this lesson from our tradition to ease in intentionally – it will be a big change. We have two choices: return as if nothing has happened, or take what we have learned in this crisis as a once-in-a-lifetime inexplicable, devastating, incredible, depressing, unimaginable, painful, profound, scary, eye-opening, heartbreaking, and overwhelming gift. This gift can be found in the great pause, the deep breath, this time in between the world we knew and the world yet to come.

This year as we count the Omer together, I invite you to think deeply and intentionally about what you want to add back to your life. This is our chance to define what our new freedom, our new lives, will look like. This is a sacred opportunity to trim the excess and waste and only load onto our lives the things that are necessary and welcome; things that make us happy, whole, and proud. To some extent, we can define what the world after COVID-19 will look like for us. Just like after a factory reset on our phone or computer, we can choose to lose the clutter, make improvements, and only put back what works.

Like the Israelites we will someday find freedom, and when we do, let us follow in their footsteps, and count each day with awareness as we choose goodness and Torah to guide our new lives ahead. 

Shavua tov and happy counting,

Rabbi Scott Nagel
The Sophia and Nathan Gumenick Senior Rabbi
Cantor Sarah Beck-Berman
Cantor and B’nei Mitzvah Coordinator

Thu, May 6 2021 24 Iyyar 5781