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Omer - day five

We are in the process of counting the Omer – the period between Pesach and Shavuot which is – apart from the thirty third day – one of semi mourning. It is a curious period not least because we have no idea of what it is we are supposed to be saddened about. Yes I know there are stories about students who succumbed to plague, but this is a post hoc justification rather than a contemporaneously documented event and I just don’t buy it. I do however feel that the period between our celebrating the Exodus from Egypt and becoming a people of Covenant at Sinai is one of enormous meaning, that we pay too little attention to considering the transformation that may or may not happen, and maybe this is the purpose for the period of sombre reflection built into our ritual calendar.

The simple joy of leaving the horror of slavery and agony behind at the exodus of the multitude of people who left Egypt is understandable, but we must also remember that Egypt was left looted, plague-ridden with its citizens in a state of bitter distress. There is always a price to pay for liberation, which is not generally understood or considered at the moment of freedom, but which must be dealt with soon after, as contemporary events have taught us yet again.

The moment of Revelation at Sinai which made us into the people of Torah was also not straightforward or without difficulty – rather there was deep anxiety, terror even, and a wish not to have to deal with the enormous power that confronted us. With the help of Moses we managed to negotiate the theophany somehow, and to move off into the desert as the people of God, albeit a rather complain-ey people bristling with much self righteousness but no sense of community obligation for quite some time, a people who had already given up on Moses and God, who had made a golden calf to worship rather than begin to explore and trust the relationship that was offered to us… So I do rather wonder if the Omer period isn’t alluding quite deliberately to the time between those two events when we were faced with having to confront and mourn all that could have been, had we been a little braver;

Our history could have been quite different, had we been a little braver a little earlier. We might not have had to spend 40 years in the wilderness, we might not have learned the selfishness of a people who feel themselves to be outsiders, the neediness, the desire for control. Maybe we wouldn’t have had to endure the slavery in the first place, maybe we wouldn’t have stayed away from the land so long we began to endanger our connections to it… Maybe that is what we mourn during the Omer…

Rabbi Sylvia Rothschild. Milan/London


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