Omer - the third day
COUNTING THE OMER
After 50 years of preaching Pesach sermons I thought I had covered all possible themes at least once unless I occasionally repeated myself having forgotten what I said two years earlier. All the characters covered; Moses of course, Pharaoh, Aaron, Miriam, the taskmasters, the neglected wife Zipporah…but out of the blue I find another name I’m sure I’ve never mentioned before: Abel, yes Abel, Cain’s younger brother.
I got the idea from Jill Hammer’s excellent “The Jewish Book of Days” (p 284) where she quotes a Midrash (Genesis Rabbah 22:4) “Rabbi Eliezer and Rabbi Joshua disagree. Rabbi Eliezer says : The world was created in Tishrei (when of course we celebrate Rosh Hashanah) but Rabbi Joshua says : In Nisan (and of course we start counting months from Nisan). And the Midrash continues: Rabbi Eliezer says Abel lived from Sukkot to Chanukkah. Rabbi Joshua holds that Abel lived from Pesach to Shavuot. In either case, both agree that Abel lived only for 50 days.”
I checked it out in my diary and found that there are at least 8 weeks from Sukkot to Chanukkah…but who is counting when there is a Midrash to consider. Counting of course is the theme from Pesach to Shavuot, counting the Omer and that certainly is 7 weeks adding up to 49 or 50 days. Cain may have killed his brother Abel but I’m sure you picture the brothers as rather older than 7 weeks! After all the fratricide occurs after they had each brought their sacrifices to God, Cain the vegetarian bringing a sheaf of corn, Abel the shepherd a lamb. But the Midrash may have originated with a comment on the name Abel – in Hebrew Hevel, which means a breath or vapour….something transitory, and so the life cut short.
Psalm 90 declares: “The span of our life is seventy years, or given strength, eighty years….” and I reach the latter figure later this year and I am very aware of the later verse ,” so teach us to count our days, that we may acquire a heart of wisdom.” We never know how long we will live or what fate awaits us : maybe counting the Omer is a way, in Spring each year, to remind ourselves of the lesson to try to make each day count, to do at least one thing in it to leave us feeling satisfied, as the Psalm concludes : “ Let the favour of the Eternal One rest upon us and may our work have lasting value.”
Rabbi Dr Andrew Goldstein
Emeritus Rabbi The Ark Synagogue Northwood