“Blessed are you, Adonai our God, Sovereign of the Universe, who has made us holy with your commandments and commanded us to count the omer. Today is 37 days, which is five weeks and two days of the omer.”
Those of you who have been attending Friday night services in the past few weeks may recognize the above blessing and statement; as in some years past, we have been counting the omer as a community this year.
In its most basic form, counting the omer requires very little – each evening, people recite the above blessing and formulaically state the incoming day.
Okay, but what is an “omer,” and what is the point of counting it??
An “omer” is a portion of barley the ancient Israelites were commanded to bring to the Temple as an offering on the second day of Passover. But “the omer” also refers to the seven-week time period between the second night of Passover and the holiday of Shavuot. At one end, “the omer” marks the moment the Israelites took their first liberated steps out of Egypt, and at the other end, the moment the Israelites accepted the Ten Commandments at Mt. Sinai.
To count the omer means to intentionally take one more step, each day, away from slavery and toward Torah.
A few years ago, my good friend and NC colleague Rabbi Leah Citrin and I began thinking about how we might craft an engaging and meaningful way of counting the omer together. We have developed “InstaOmer,” a method of counting the omer on Instagram.
Each day, we post one image that reminds us of a lesson we learned that day that we would like to carry forward with us.
On day five, I posted a picture of a thank you note I had written that day, with the lesson “Five: Appreciate people out loud.” On day nine, after a particularly long day at work, I posted a meme I had seen earlier that day of Cruella Deville looking particularly frazzled, and captioned it “Nine: Own your crazy.” On day twenty-six, I attended TBE’s LIBERTY board elections, posted a photo of the old board and new board, and wrote “Twenty-six: Set people up for success(ion).” These captions are reminders to me, moments in my day in which I recognized a habit or trait I would like to further cultivate in myself. They help me move, intentionally, from slavery toward Torah.
The act of counting invites us to take note of each day, to mark time more meaningfully, and to hold on to the passing of time a bit more purposefully. So often, we blink, and time has passed.
On September 14, 2016, I woke up incredibly nervous. It was the first day of Confirmation, and I was terrified. What if the teens didn’t like me? What if they weren’t interested in learning with me? What if they didn’t really want to be there and were all just showing up because their parents had made them? I know it sounds silly, but I’m being completely honest – it was one of the only days in my extremely short rabbinic career thus far that I wished I could stay in bed and hide all day.
And then I met them. Twenty-four kind, caring, thoughtful 15 and 16-year-olds. Every Wednesday night we sat in a circle and learned together. We talked about Jewish history and what makes us unique. We talked about God, and about prayer, and about what it means to be a people. We studied some of the other religions we encounter every day, and traveled to other houses of worship to meet Baptist, Catholic, Muslim and Hindu clergy and religious leaders. Along the way, we also processed some big hard moments in our city and our country; we talked about the protests in September and the national elections in November. We traveled to Charleston and walked the path of our southern Jewish ancestors (some of us literally – one of our students found a relative buried in the cemetery we visited!)
Somewhere along the way, we became a community.
This year, as I have counted the omer, each day one day closer to Mt. Sinai, to Torah, and to Shavuot, I have also been counting down the days until these 24 phenomenal teens stand on the bima and lead our congregation in prayer and celebration and confirmation. On Tuesday, May 30 at 7:00 pm, they will confirm their continued commitment to the Jewish people and remind us all of our own commitments – to each other, to our people, and to the world.
We hope you will join us.