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Forty First Day of the Omer

In the ANU, the new Museum of the Jewish People in Tel Aviv, there is a work of art at the entrance to the exhibition that triggers many associations. It is a sculpture made up of thousands of dials from old wristwatches. They come from different countries, sometimes square, sometimes round, labelled with Roman or Arabic numerals or just with dashes. Some still have pointers, some don't. They are lined up, one on top of the other, on long metal bands twisted into the shape of a funnel. It is as if all of these individual times together form a spiral leading to a centre. The lifetimes of those who owned these watches combine into one great shared story. You have to get close to see each dial, but if one were missing there would be a dark hole. All of these clocks were once used to tell the time and to integrate their owners into the rhythm of the community, regardless of each person’s personal sense of time. We are currently experiencing something similar with the Omer period, which stretches from Passover to Shavuot. From the second day of Passover we count the days of the Omer every night until we observe Shavuot on the fiftieth day. The daily count connects these two holidays like a tape measure. But this is not a mathematical exercise — the dates of the festivals could also be found on a calendar. It is a spiritual journey that begins with the exodus of the Israelites from Egypt and leads to the gift of the Torah at Sinai. First, people had to experience their physical freedom in order to be able to become spiritually free to accept a new way of life. Step by step, each day of the Omer moves away from bondage to self-determination. The Torah was adopted as a constitution for Israel as a people and as a guide for every individual in Israel, but it also became influential for other peoples in its call to establish an order of law and justice. So we are counting fifty days until the arrival at Sinai, and we are doing this in ascending order, beginning with 1. But if the act of giving the Torah is so momentous for the future, why not count in the form of a countdown: Thirty days, twenty more, ten more...? The answer is: our path does not end at Sinai. It goes on from there with the Torah, on the way to one’s own country and on the arduous way through history, in which the fortunes of the individual people in joy and sorrow are connected with the migration of the Jewish people. Personal desires, hopes, goals are woven into, influenced by and contributing to the destiny of the community. Just as the private watches of the individuals who are linked to form the long band of Jewish history.

Rabbi Dr Ulrike Offenberg, Hameln Germany

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