Rabbi Emily JK Holtzman
Special to Valley News
This week, Parsha Emor details many of the celebrations throughout the Jewish year, such as Sukkot, which is the Festival of Booths; Passover and Shavuot, which is the Festival of Weeks. Traditionally, during these three times a year, the Jewish people made a special pilgrimage to the temple in Jerusalem to give sacrifices.
Sukkot marked the end of the harvest. Passover marked the beginning of the planting season, and Shavuot was the harvesting of the first crops. The 49-day period from the second day of Passover to Shavuot is called the omer.
During this time, it is traditional to count and appreciate each day that marks the beginning of the barley planting to its harvest. The count ends on Shavuot, the time when Jews traditionally brought their first sheaves to the temple. This festival, along with the other two pilgrimage festivals, were used as a collective way of thanking God for the harvest.
We are currently in the midst of counting the omer. According to the Torah in Leviticus 23: 15-16, “You shall count from the eve of the second day of Passover, when an omer of grain is to be brought as an offering, seven complete weeks. The day after the seventh week of your counting will make 50 days, and you shall present a new meal offering to God. The word “omer” means “measurement,” referring to the measurement of one sheaf of barley.
Now that few people are barley farmers and the temple no longer stands, practices like counting the omer must take on new meaning in the modern world. There is an anticipation of the arrival of Shavuot as it is not only the first harvest of the year, but also the anniversary of the day when Jews accepted the teachings of Torah at Mount Sinai. It is a holiday that Jews anticipate joyfully, and thus there is acknowledgement each and every day counting toward this revelation. The newly freed Israelites were wandering through the desert with only Moses as their guide, there was not yet an understanding of the laws God wants the Jews to follow. It was a somewhat liminal space in the desert.
This period of counting is similar to the Hebrew month of Elul, the preparatory month before the High Holidays of Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur. Kabbalah or Jewish mysticism uses the omer as a self-reflection tool. Counting the omer gives us a chance to reflect each and every day on one of the divine aspects. The Jewish people moved from the slave mentality of Egypt to a sense of freedom and gratitude to God. The Kabbalists have a mystical map of the 10 divine elements, called the sefirot, that can also be matched up to different parts of the human body. Three of these aspects are associated with higher heavenly realms, while the other seven can be practiced and attained by humans. These are the foundation for the different aspects that Jews focus on each day of the omer. Each week has a spiritual theme, and each day delves into an aspect of that theme. Last week was the element of hod, translated as splendor, majesty or humility.
Rabbi Simon Jacobson said of hod: “Humility is modesty; it is acknowledgement. It is saying ‘thank you’ to God. It is clearly recognizing your qualities and strengths and acknowledging that they are not your own; they were given to you by God for a higher purpose than just satisfying your own needs. Humility is modesty; it is recognizing how small you are which allows you to realize how large you can become.”
What in your life needs a bit of recognition this week? How are you acknowledging the gifts that God has granted you in your daily life? Use this week to think about the need for both splendor and humility in your life. Allow yourself to expand your ideas of what can be and what you can be. Shabbat Shalom and have a peaceful week.