Counting the Omer

by Rabbi Sonya Starr

As I cleaned my house ridding myself of chametz, I was watching the news reports about the March for Our Lives. As I was physically preparing for Passover, I was witnessing a new generation of Americans demanding change.

As I thought about our Seders, I remembered that the counting of the Omer begins on the second night of Passover. As a result, I began to think about counting the omer and how counting the omer from the second night of Passover to erev Shavuot transforms not only Shavuot but also Passover.

If you google “counting the omer” as I did, you will see that for the most part the counting of the omer prepares us as Jews for the experience at Mount Sinai. The Kabbalist connected this daily practice with the sefirot. Those who practice mindfulness connect it to taking stock of where we are at each precious moment of our life. For others it is the time when we study Jewish texts, preparing for the time of receiving the commandments at Sinai. All are very important and legitimate reasons for counting the omer. But I began to wonder how counting the omer affects Passover. In other words, would Passover be different if we did not count the omer?

As I was thinking about this, I remembered different uprisings created solely by the young in our community that were never linked up to those who have more experience or resources; they tend to be rebellions that get a lot of attention in the moment but never really transform the society. Think Tunisia, China or Russia or worse-they only produce new dictators, not new ways of governing. It would be as if the Exodus story ended with the Israelites dancing and singing on the other side of the Sea of Reeds without any attention paid to Gd, or the possibility of a sacred community created in a different model than the one they experienced in Egypt. And, in effect, while the Israelites were wandering in the desert before reaching Mount Sinai, they began to turn Moses into that supreme leader, the one who did and knew everything. If the rabbis did not connect the Exodus to the Covenant with Gd, we would have dispersed after a couple of years, forgotten the miracle of justice, and our history would be just one more lost cause.

It is only in the counting of the omer, the bridge between Passover and Shavuot that we begin to learn how to govern ourselves differently than we were governed. We learn to trust Gd, a force bigger and greater than we ever will be. We learn from Jethro how to set up a court system that allows others to be trained to lead and carry the load with Moses. We develop an economic system that surrounds the sacred, allowing our lives to have meaning and purpose. We become the holy treasure we were always meant to be.

Counting the Omer reminds us that one does not just go to one march and change the world. Long after the cameras are gone and people have returned to their daily life, we must take the time every day, day after day, to remind ourselves what our freedom is for. Freedom for freedom’s sake does not create a better, more moral community. Rather, Freedom for freedom’s sake only creates individualism. What is best for me? What do I want? Some might say narcissism which in the end creates a new dictatorship. In order for freedom to last, it must build towards creating a new world order, a new way of being in the world, and that takes time, consciousness, desire, determination, wisdom, spirituality, morals, and community. Passover without counting the omer would have affected one generation of people and would never have been passed on to the next generation. Passover with the counting of the omer becomes a time when the lessons, the story of freedom, can be woven into the fabric of our lives, allowing us to become more than we ever knew we could be. What is our commitment to our community going to be? How are we going to make our freedom count? What will our just community create? You see, Passover without counting the omer is like a match without any kindling or wood to light. While we count the omer, we gather the twigs, find the bigger logs, discover the pillar of light that has always been there, and build the Ner Tamid, the sacred light that will be our legacy to the next generation, our revolution, our time to be holy again.

May each of us not only experience slavery and freedom, but may we also count the path we are on to attain a new level of spirituality, morality, and community that allows justice to flourish. May we take the actions necessary to transform our country into the country we always knew it could be.