Archive | May, 2012

Counting through the Omer – beard today, gone tomorrow!

14 May

The Omer Counting marks the time between Passover and Shavuot – two important agricultural holidays that also became two important theological holidays in the Jewish calendar.

On the agricultural front, we mark this time as when winter planted grain ripens on the stalk, and is thus vulnerable to being destroyed by heat waves. In an attempt to not disrupt this fragile natural balance, some Jews observe a minor mourning period for the first 33 days of the Omer – from the Second Night of Passover until May 10 this year – and refrain from trimming hair or shaving, as well as abstaining from celebrations. There are multiple traditions about when this period ends, either the 33rd day as the last day, or merely a respite before the true end of the period, on the holiday of Shavuot, or weeks, which is the 49th day of the Omer, 7 weeks after we began, when the grain harvest is in and we can make an offering. Many noted my lack of shaving for the first 33 days, and then a return to clean face afterwards – this is borne out by one interpretation of the tradition.

On the theological aspect, these days mark the movement from Passover, when the Israelites were freed from slavery, to Shavuot, when we received the Torah on Mount Sinai – freedom leads to revelation. In that spirit, recognizing that we must prepare ourselves for revelation, the Kabbalaists used the 7 by 7 structure – 7 days of 7 weeks – to incorporate the lower seven sefirot of the Tree of Life. This model lays out important principles, many of which are paired with their complementary ideas (Chesed, loving kindness, with Gevurah, rigor, for example), and others are their balanced resolutions (like Tiferet, balanced beauty, and Yesod, balanced foundation). Jewish mysticism (Kabbalah) identifies these principles as elements essential to living, thinking, and feeling in a way that leads to inspiration and creativity in appreciation of the gift of existence.

You can follow my continued daily reflections on the counting of the Omer through these different sefirot of Jewish mysticism here, at my blog: Rabbi Jonathan’s Blog.

Today is the 37th of the Omer – Happy Counting until Shavuot, on Saturday night, May 26!