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Shabbat Chol Hamoed Pesach: The Moment of Rebirth

The concept of counting time is deeply rooted in Jewish tradition. The Jewish calendar reminds us of the obligation to follow the waxing and waning moon, the cycle of tides, and, most importantly, the cycle of life as each year passes. Tradition teaches us that we should not simply let time pass by. With the morning recitation of just 12 words, Modeh Ani, we express our gratitude for being alive, as well as the certainty that each day presents us with new opportunities. 


In our tradition, counting is never more important than during the time between Passover and Shavuot. We call this ritual the Counting of the Omer. Each day, we recite a blessing that marks this period as a time for reflection, revelation, and change.

 

During the second seder and on the first evening that begins the period of Hol HaMoed Pesach in Israel all congregations around the world begin the counting of the Omer. Historically, the counting of the Omer represents the commandment from the Torah to count 49 days between Passover and Shavuot. In Temple times, this occurred during the harvest and was marked by offerings made. Spiritually, we know that the counting of the Omer represents the 49-day journey of our ancestors from their liberation from Egypt to the moment they received the Torah at Mount Sinai.

 

A Midrash recounts that the Children of Israel left Egypt with the promise of meeting God at Sinai. They were told that in 50 days, they would receive the Torah, so they could count the days with eager anticipation. But instead of counting down, they counted forward, feeling a spiritual uplift with each new day.

 

When they left Egypt, they had no idea what lay beyond the Red Sea. They didn't know if enemies awaited them on the other side, if they would be able to keep their families safe, or how long they would wander in a strange and unfamiliar land. They took each day, one day at a time.

 

There were days of despair, of wanting to throw in the towel, and others of small and great expressions of joy.

 

This past week, we had a beautiful Community Seder and a second Seder in which we began this upward count toward the culminating moment of spirituality that is Shavuot and the giving of the Torah.

 

So, as always, Shabbat Hol HaMoed Pesach arrives, a special time, amidst the almost mundane days of the Passover week. On this Shabbat, we always read, after the traditional Torah reading, what we call in Hebrew "Haftarah Ha'Atzamot HaYevashot." The portion of the prophets that we read for this occasion is known as "the prophecy of the dry bones" and is found in Ezekiel 37:1-14.

 

Symbolically, as we delve into this Haftarah, we could see it as a metaphor for renewal and hope. The prophet's vision of dry bones coming to life could be interpreted as a call to reflect on the capacity for change and transformation in our lives, especially in a context of liberation and renewal central to the celebration of Passover.

 

Perhaps some might see the Haftarah as an opportunity to meditate on the meaning of freedom and human dignity, fundamental themes for the experience that commemorates the liberation of the Jewish people from slavery in Egypt, or as the Lubavitcher Rebbe once expressed, symbolizing those of the People of Israel who strayed, assimilated, and dried up, forgetting their connection to Jewish tradition and values.

 

Our Community Seder and indeed the past few months have been marked by continuous efforts for the liberation of those kidnapped by Hamas, and furthermore, the effort to not continue with our lives as if nothing had happened. To remind ourselves and others that even though life goes on and it seems like the hostages are far away, or perhaps you're already lifeless (God forbid), we must somehow include them in every moment we can. We are prone to getting used to situations and pushing forward to survive.

 

The Haftarah of Ezekiel 37, with its message of resurrection and hope, may be particularly resonant in these difficult times. Amidst war and the struggle for the liberation of the kidnapped, the Haftarah can be seen as a symbol of unwavering faith and hope for life amidst desolation.

 

The vision of dry bones coming to life could inspire those of us tirelessly advocating for peace and freedom and remind us that even in the most desperate circumstances, there is potential for renewal and change. Even when the bones already seem dry.

 

Undoubtedly, the restoration of Israel as an independent nation in 1948 was a historic milestone. It is a fact that every Jew, in my opinion, should celebrate and not in isolation, but together with the entire People of Israel in the Land of Israel and in every place of its dispersion.

 

In 2024, in Israel, the threat of wars, the pursuit of peace and security, the fight against terrorism, and the continuity of a government with its own agenda, which does not include the need of the mourners, remain constant challenges.

 

In the diaspora, in universities, in the streets, in Jewish Communities, we face challenges we assumed were overcome. Antisemitism, violence, and a permanent threat to the preservation of Jewish identity are daily news on social media. Because undoubtedly, throughout time and despite our dispersion far and wide in this world, which for us narrows more and more, we remain one people, one big family with a shared history and memories.

 

In 2024, this prophecy calls us to remember our history, to unite as a people, and to look towards a future of restoration and unity because Jews, both in Israel and in the diaspora, continue to be part of a narrative of hope and resilience, which we will continue to fight for our identity, for our ancestral land, and for the liberation of all our captives.

 

The prophecy of Ezekiel reminds us that, despite the difficulties, unity and restoration are possible. Counting each day, even those that are challenging and imperfect, allows us to recognize where we've been and where we hope to go and chart a path that leads us to that goal we set for ourselves.

 

May we do so together, in community, and show to those who don't want to understand that AM ISRAEL CHAI!! THE PEOPLE OF ISRAEL LIVE!!

 

Shabbat Shalom,

 

Rabbi Gustavo Geier


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