Pesach is over.
We are in full count of the Omer. A custom that we usually leave aside for "those who comply", or "for the orthodox", or "for the mystics".
It is true that the whole period of the Omer is something of a mystery. Something that seems to be destined for a few to know what it is about, others to fulfill some things without understandingthem well and a majority not even questioning none of it.
I am stuborn enough to believe that Judaism really should and can be something of the everyday life. That it has always wanted to be a lifepath imbued with spiritual content. That it was never about accepting anything blindly, but about questioning, questioning and questioning ourselves.
I am almost certain that if we manage to understand that our Halachah is not about imposed laws, but about norms that help us preserve ourselves and grow as individuals, spiritually and also as a people, we will probably be able to live more in peace with those around us by opening our hearts and our doors to accept differences and choices. In fact, that is what the Tanakh speaks of in various passages. Of the acceptance of the different, of the commitment to the weakest, of the embracing of those who decide to join our people...
Why then do we do the opposite? Why do we keep to ourselves what we should share with others? Why do our neighbor's personal choices bother us? Why do we see it as a threat when a non-Jew approaches wanting to be part of the People of Israel?
And if you reread all the instances I am describing to you, you will see I didn’t even get close to spiritual issues. They are rather social. Difficulties in accepting what is different, especially with regard to social relations.
The period of Counting the Omer requires us to change. And why do I speak of demand? Because 49 days after the second day of Passover we are going to meet face to face with the Kadosh Baruch Hu, to receive the Torah, our tradition and our customs, in a commitment that requires us to prepare for it.
What is the meaning of counting 49 days and how does this relate to that preparation to receive the Torah? What relevance does this account have for us today and how does this apply to the exploration of the inner dimensions of our being, of our souls?
The answer to these questions is found in a different and deeper understanding of the exodus from Egypt.
The word Mitzraim (“Egypt” in Hebrew), means "limitations", "boundaries" and represents all forms of conformity and definition that restrict, restrain and inhibit our free movement and expression. Thus, leaving Egypt means gaining freedom from restrictions.
And then the 49 days that took us to Sinai: this period was one of intense refinement of character for the People of Israel. Day by day, they climbed one rung after another on this spiritual ladder, ascending the emotional stairway to a higher purity. And this period of character refinement should be as relevant today as it was then. Just as we should have seen ourselves as slaves coming out of theoppression in Egypt "keilu anachnu hainu be Miztraim", as if we ourselves had been in Egypt, we today must free ourselves from the slavery of our personalities that are sometimes oppressed by forces over which we do not always have control.
The 49 days of the sefirah, as long as we do them conscientiously and with due intentionality, teach us how to regain that control.
You may believe this or not.
You can assume that you can handle everything by yourself and that improvement is managed by you from your will. And it's very good. It is a path.
In that case, just refer to your account to prepare for the colossal delivery of our Torah, the one that sustained us as a People for more than 3000 years. And that will be enough. Dayenu… or Dayno, it will be enough for Him.
If you feel that it does not come out on your own, then take the count of the Omer as that ladder of 49 steps on which the foot rests with greater support each time. In which each step lifts us up and allows us to review ourselves, every day or, if that seems like a lot, every Friday, in the Kabbalat Shabbat tfillah in which we meet and strengthen ourselves in questioning our attitudes, our commitment, our delivery to those who really matter.
Then, on May 5th, in the morning, we will have our pre-Shavuot breakfast and the reading of the giving of the 10 commandments at Sinai. And we will study together in what we call Tikkun Shavuot. A moment of investigation in which we seek to reverse the spiritual drowsiness with which our ancestors received the Torah in an orgy of paganism and debauchery in front of the Golden Calf.
May this year’s Sfirat haOmer be another moment of Community in which to meet and build. For the People of Israel, for our dear Beth El and for each one of us.