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Thirty Second Day of the Omer

A Japanese reflection on counting the Omer

On my first visit to Japan I was amused to hear music being played when the traffic lights changed at certain road junctions. One tune I recognized as ‘Coming through the Rye’, though I could not figure out why it was chosen. (People I asked did not recognize the English name, so perhaps there is a Japanese version.) But the corresponding music for the other crossing is a famous Japanese song called Toryansei that accompanies a children’s game. Two children hold up their hands together to make an arch and the others pass through till the tune ends and the arch falls and traps whoever is underneath. At the traffic light as long as the music plays it is safe to cross.

There are many theories about the origin of the song. At a time of high infant mortality, when a child reached the age of seven, people would celebrate by visiting a particular shrine. The gatekeeper could decide whether you had a legitimate reason to enter. But there was something sinister about the place, as is often played out in nursery rhymes and children’s games, with no certainty of a safe return. Hence the conversation with the gatekeeper.

This is the narrow pathway to the shrine.

Please allow me to enter.

Entering is easy, but returning is uncertain.

It is uncertain, but you may pass through.

The entrance to the shrine is a liminal space between two worlds. We, step briefly out of a life that is familiar and that we navigate with ease. We enter a world that is unknown but filled with anticipation and awe.

The omer period is an extended liminal space between the newly acquired freedom with the Exodus at Pesach and the commitments and responsibilities of the covenant with God at Shavuot. It is a time to consider, what we have gained and what might lie ahead.

‘It is uncertain but you may pass through.’

Rabbi Dr Jonathan Magonet


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