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Day 12 of the Omer

One aspect of the Omer that we can easily overlook is that by requiring us to count and number every day, it reminds us of the objective reality of time. Days follow each other; there is no going back. Each day , each hour, each moment, is a unique opportunity either to be used or to be missed, there are no other possibilities.

This may seem obvious, but it is not the only way that our tradition understands time. The Haggadah quotes the verse “You shall tell your child in that day ‘This is because of what the Eternal did for me when I came out of Egypt’” and concludes that it is incumbent on each on each of us to regard ourselves as having left Egypt. We are encouraged to remember the Exodus rather than to commemorate it. In the same vein, stories abound in Talmud and Midrash of conversations between characters who lived centuries apart.

There is nothing false or naïve about this. There is a very real sense in which time is an ocean of experience, a cupful of which can teach us something of value, even though the water in the cup comes from diverse sources. It is quite valid to think that the pop stars of yesterday are dead while Shakespeare and Beethoven are alive and well. As Jews, we do not live in the past, but we do live in that vast time-ocean that sustains us. So we all came out of Egypt and we all stood at Sinai.

Then along comes the Omer to say “Yes, but what are you going to do today?” It assures us that these two quite different ways of understanding time are not incompatible. Indeed, if Sinai and the Exodus are to have any meaning at all they are inseparable. We are not asked to intellectualise the experience but to base our behaviour on it. We may still be standing at Sinai, but if we miss the opportunities of the present, we are merely standing still.

Rabbi Cliff Cohen


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