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Joshua Stanton

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Count the Omer With Hope

Posted: 04/02/2013 8:58 am

Lives filled with time-pressure underscore the potential of quieter moments to renew us. Spiritually, we have just entered such a moment of relative quiet. It is replete with possibility.

The seven weeks, starting on the second day of Passover and continuing through the day that precedes Shavuot, provide us with a spiritual interstice replete full of opportunity. Too often, we overlook the uplifting potential of these weeks.

Our Talmudic sages teach us to look at them as a time of solemnity or even mourning. In their own time, the Counting of the Omer was tinged with sadness. It is said to have coincided with the death of as many as 24,000 of the great Rabbi Akiva's students and was later associated with other moments and memories of Jewish pain and loss.

This Talmudic construal, however, contrasts starkly with the Omer's earlier formulations. The holidays that bookend these weeks are profound. But neither lends itself intuitively to sadness. Passover commemorates our escape from slavery to freedom, while Shavuot commemorates the giving of the Torah.

The word "Omer" itself signifies the measure of barley given in tribute to God, of the sort made when the Temple in Jerusalem was still the central institution of Jewish life. The Omer may have been seen as a period of hope for a good harvest ahead, paralleling the deeper spiritual harvest that we sought to realize as a people.

The promise of freedom made to the Israelites who escaped Egypt is realized more fully when they received the Torah -- the set of ideals that served to institutionalize justice and freedom in their newly birthed society. Each year, we too affirm the hope of justice and freedom in our society through the holidays of Passover and Shavuot; we too pursue these ideals with renewed attentiveness and vigor.

The time in between these holidays is critical to such efforts. It enables us to fortify ourselves, building up our resolve to realize the aspirations of Passover and its ethical mandate.

The Omer need not be a time of sadness. The time between Passover and Shavuout can itself be transformational and full of hope.

For more, join the HuffPost Religion virtual community by visiting the Omer liveblog, which features inspiration and teachings for all 49 days of spiritual renewal between Passover and Shavuot.

 

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