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Parashat Emor - 5777

Dear friends,

This week's Parasha continues with the laws of Kedusha, related to space, humans and time. It begins with instructions to the priests who serve in the Temple. They must be holy. They may not defile themselves by coming in contact with the dead. Even when in mourning, they may not shave their head, their beards, or make cuttings in their body (ancient pagan mourning practices).

This is followed by a comprehensive description of the sacred seasons in the Jewish year - all listed in Chapter 23 of the Book of Leviticus. These appointed days are to be proclaimed as holy convocations for religious gathering, days that are like the Shabbat when we refrain from working. Preparing food for these festivals, however, is permitted with the exception of Yom Kippur. We mark these sacred days by performing the Mitzvot associated with each holiday, like hearing the Shofar, sitting in a Sukkah, having a Seder, etc.

Listed among these festivals is a Mitzvah called 'Sefirat HaOmer', the Counting of the Omer. We are instructed to begin counting the days from the second day of Pesah until the Festival of Shavuot. This is a very unique and easy Mitzvah to fulfill. After reciting the Bracha of 'Al Sefirat HaOmer', the Mitzvah of Counting the Omer, we say today is day one in the Omer, the next day we say today is day 2 in the Omer, etc. After seven days we say the number of days and the number of weeks until we complete 49 days, seven weeks. The fiftieth day is the Festival of Shavuot.

What is the purpose of this counting? Several reasons are given:

Counting the Omer between Pesah, the festival of Freedom, and Shavuot, the Festival of the Giving of the Torah, emphasizes that the physical liberation from slavery that we experienced by leaving Egypt is not a complete freedom. Freedom only came when we accepted the Torah at Mount Siani which took place 50 days after leaving Egypt. A people is free only when it is governed by laws that promote a just society.

I also like this interpretation for the Counting of the Omer: The Mussar sages, rabbis who emphasized behavior and spirituality, would like us to consider the seven weeks of the Counting of the Omer as a reflection on our own life in this world. Seven weeks for the seven decades of the proverbial seventy-year life span granted to each one of us in this world. The daily counting during the seven weeks reminds us of the importance of time and how quickly it is gone. People, the rabbis say, are more concerned about the loss of their possessions than the loss of time. Yet time is a most precious possession that, once lost, can never be recovered. No matter how long one lives, it is always too short for all that one wants to accomplish for oneself, for one's family, and for one's community.

This does not sound like a cheerful message, but neither is the period of the Counting of the Omer. For the last two thousand years, the days between Pesah and Shavuot - the days of the Counting of the Omer - have been observed as days of semi-mourning, when Jewish weddings are not held. This semi-mourning is for the tragic death of thousands of Rabbi Akiva's students during the Roman occupation. However, Lag BaOmer, the thirty-third day, is a happy day. This year, Lag BaOmer coincides with Mother's Day which is observed this Sunday.

The message for us is to feel the preciousness of time, and to make every day count. Enjoy each and every day to its fullest, because it does not return. The sacred days enable us to take stock of the passing of time and urge us to enjoy every day, its blessings and opportunities.

I wish you all a Happy Lag BaOmer, and to all the mothers, Happy Mother's Day.

Shabbat Shalom,