The Countdown to Shavuot

by Arliene Botnick, April 25, 2019

We count the days, so let us make sure that every day counts!

In Leviticus 23:21, we are commanded to “keep count for a full 7 weeks … count 50 days” beginning from the day “after the day of rest” – which begins with the 2nd night of Passover. Each evening, for 49 days, we are counting the time symbolically it took our ancestors to physically escape from bondage in Egypt to reach the fulfillment of freedom, the receiving of the mitzvot, the commandments at Sinai (on the holiday of Shavuot).

This counting of the omer is a “quaint tradition” with many back stories. Its start is linked to the cutting down of certain measurement (omer) of barley that was brought to the Temple of ancient times as an offering. It prepares us, as the season morphs from spring into summer, for the next crop to be harvested, wheat. And perhaps it reminds us of the cycle of the seasons, of crops being grown, of the need to pay attention to the earth and all its fullness, to value the food we gather from the land and to value and protect land we have all been given. We make each day count by taking care of this land, our world, and preserving it so that future generations will also benefit of its produce.

This holiday is also associated with a time of partial mourning (that is ends on the 33rd day of counting (Lag B’omer). The origins of this tradition are numerous, perhaps relating to a plague (or battles) in which thousands of Rabbi Akiva’s disciples perished. On the 33rd day, one tradition, for me, resonates. That is the tradition of cutting, for the first time, the hair of our 3-year old children. To celebrate the cessation of mourning, we, perhaps symbolically, signal that our little ones (in this case, boys) are growing up and getting their 1st haircut. And we value each day by nurturing, loving, caring for all children and making sure they can grow up in a world that need not be filled with mourning over needlessly lost lives and acts of war and aggression but rather a world of hope and potential.

And finally, we reach the 50th day, celebrated as Shavuot (weeks) where our ancestors and where we symbolically stood at Sinai to receive the commandments, to receive Torah, to receive what makes us Jews – our covenant with God that says we will be God’s people and God will be our God. As we accept Torah, we say “Naaseh v’Nishmah”. “We will do and we will hear.” We make each day count by valuing our brit (covenant) with God, by believing that all peoples are made in God’s image, and that by obeying God’s mitzvot, perhaps the world can become a better place!

Keyn Yehi Ratzon
May it be God’s will!

Filed under: Educator's Message

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