We’re in an interesting time period on the Jewish calendar, a period known as Sefirat Ha’Omer – the counting of the Omer.  The Omer, or sheaf, was an offering of barley brought to the Temple in Jerusalem on the second day of Passover.  After this offering was brought, the Torah instructs us to count 7 weeks, or 49 days, which brings us to the holiday of Shavuot (Leviticus 23:15-16). Today, we consider Shavuot the holiday that commemorates the receiving of the 10 Commandments.  In ancient times, however, Shavuot was an agricultural holiday, marking the time when Jews brought the first official fruits of the wheat harvest to the Temple as an offering to G-d.

Interestingly, we Jews still count each day of the Omer.  Today is the 15th day of the Omer – click here for an Omer calendar. Tonight at services, we will count the 16th day of the Omer.  After this evening, we have 33 more days to count.  33 more days to use the freedom we all received when the Red Sea parted centuries ago to look for our own 10 Commandments – our own meaningful, spiritual direction.  Use the next 33 days of the Omer.  Ask yourself the deep questions – what do you need to bring more pure joy and happiness into your life?  What do you need to bring more peace into your routine?  What do you need to feel better about yourself? What do you need to grow personally?  What do you realistically need from G-d?  33 days.  Try to answer the questions.  33 days of wandering in your desert.  Yes, a desert is a tough place, but, as we know from our people’s story, a desert is a place where we can grow and travel to great places. If you give yourself the time you deserve to grow and flourish, when Shavuot begins on the evening of May 25, you will discover the true meaning of the holiday and the transformative power of the desert.

The rabbis teach us that every year, despite the fact that we’re no longer literally wandering in the desert, most of us are a bit lost in one way or another.  On Passover we hopefully discover a new sense of freedom.  With this freedom, however, also comes the realization that we’re not using this freedom to the best of our ability.  Some of us don’t know what to do with this freedom.  Some of us don’t appreciate it.  Some of us abuse it. Some of us are just downright lost.  So, during the counting of the Omer, we’re supposed to engage in soul-searching, similar to what we do during the High Holidays, figuring out how we can find our way out of our own personal desert.  Hopefully, through prayer, meditation, rituals, study and discussions with people we trust, we can find our way out and experience the same type of liberation and redemption that our ancestors felt when they received the gift of the 10 Commandments.  This takes work, work we must be willing to do.  Spiritual searching is not easy. 

Why do we still count these days?  We no longer bring harvest offerings to the Temple.  We know when Shavuot is – we don’t need to count the days. Why didn’t this custom disappear?  Because the rabbis appreciated that counting the days between Passover and Shavuot has a deeper meaning.  On Passover – we celebrate our freedom, followed by our wandering in the desert – in no-man’s land.  After the 49 days of counting, we arrive at Shavuot and receive the 10 Commandments.  No longer are we wandering aimlessly in the desert.  We have rules and directions.  We’re a true people, discovering our purpose.

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