Counting the Omer…

shavuot aThere is no doubt that the Jewish calendar is designed in a way that can easily confuse just about anyone! I was always absolutely certain of that! J What, with the new year in September (or thereabout – only proving the original statement!) and Chanukah and Passover that fall all over the place… no one can ever figure it out!

I recently asked my Christian colleagues at our local interfaith clergy gathering why the Western and the Orthodox churches sometimes celebrate Easter together and sometimes weeks apart. The answer totally blew me away – because of the Jewish calendar! As it turns out, all churches use the same formula for calculating Easter, but the Eastern (Orthodox) Church also waits for the Passover to take place. Since Passover moves around so much, so does Easter.

If you found yourself agreeing with anything that I said in the first paragraph of this article, you should seriously consider signing up for the Basic Judaism class next time I advertise it! For the Jewish calendar is a very logical and beautifully symmetrical creation, linked to the moon cycle – as well as to the sun – in a very thoughtful and sophisticated way. Much of it is based on the Biblical commandments as well as on the natural cycles of the year and the seasons.  And once you get to know it a little, it’s not THAT complicated J!

One of the calendar cycles connects the Festivals of Passover and Shavuot through the ritual of Counting the Omer. In fact, the very name of the Festival of Shavuot hints at the cycle – it is best translated as ‘The Festival of Weeks.’ From the second night of Passover, we begin to count the seven weeks, or 7×7 – forty nine days in all, so that on the fiftieth day we can celebrate Shavuot, the festival of first fruits, as well as z’man matan Torateinu, the time of the giving of Torah on Mount Sinai.

So what is the Omer? An ‘omer’ is in fact a sheaf of wheat, a nod to the wheat harvest that would begin around that time of year. And how does one count it? A few years ago I came across a very clever website that referred to it as ‘counting the Homer’ – making the age-old ritual connected to the Simpsons! It gives the basic information about counting, as well as providing the blessings to be recited on each day in the run-up to Shavuot. You can try it for yourself! Just go to www.homercalendar.net and enjoy.

This year Shavuot begins in the evening on Tuesday, May 30th. As we celebrate the giving of Torah, we come together to pray and to study – please make sure you check the calendar and Shofar Blast for more details nearer the time. We also follow the Reform tradition of holding the Confirmation service on Shavuot, celebrating our wonderful teenagers who have completed their two-year long course of study with me by helping to lead the Shavuot service and read the 10 commandments from the Torah. I know that when festivals fall mid-week it makes it harder for many people to attend, but I want to encourage you all to do so and come celebrate this very special Festival together with your TE family. See you there!

Rabbi Farbman

Parts of this article previously appeared in the Shofar in 2011.

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