A Sabbath Message: Counting the Days…With Hope

"A storm came, behold it passed and the voice of the dove sings…The main thing is not to fear at all, for You are with me."–  From Psalm 23

The natural rhythm of our week has once again brought us the gift of Shabbat…and with it, my thoughts turn this week to our Jewish calendar. I remember when my daughters were small, at this time of year, we often began to mark off the days to the end of the school year, and count toward the day they would leave for Jewish summer camp. In fact, our Jewish calendar has a similar counting cycle as well. During this season, we count the 50 days between Passover and our next major holiday – Shavuot – which will arrive in exactly two weeks’ time. This process is known as the Counting of the Omer.

Although the word Omer itself refers to a “sheaf of grain” and involves the agricultural period of watching and waiting for the harvest to mature properly, there is so much more to this time historically. Connected to this period, is the story of one of our greatest sages, Rabbi Akiva. Our Talmud relates that theOmerperiod is also a time of semi-mourning to remember the plague that tragically killed 24,000 students of his yeshiva (academy). Traditionally, one does not attend weddings or other celebrations, go to movies, get haircuts or shave, or listen to live music during this period. Miraculously, this plague ceased on Lag B’Omer (the 33rd Day of the Omer), which we just observed this past Tuesday. It is considered a holiday in which we relax some of the restrictions of the Omer, with celebrations and bonfires, and even haircuts are allowed on this day.

Thus, the comparisons to the Omer period and what we are now facing during our current crisis are striking. We are limited to mostly seeing the people we live with, large gatherings and celebrations have been put on hold, there are no outings to a movie theatre or restaurant, and no live concerts. And we don’t need to be reminded about haircuts! But other similar themes are striking, as well. I was always amazed that National Teacher Appreciation Day fell very near to Lag B’Omer every year, a day in which we also honor our Jewish sages represented by perhaps the greatest, Rabbi Akiva, who taught us among many other things that “Love your neighbor as yourself” is the most important teaching in Judaism. This year, during this crisis, we are even more aware of the need to honor and revere our teachers everywhere, another group of heroes, working so hard to keep our students engaged during a most challenging time. 

The Counting of the Omer is the link between Passover and Shavuot – between liberation and responsibility. As we count these days with hope, let each of them bring us a moment of meditation to work on our best selves, even during these challenging and anxious days. May we learn to make our lives easier and more meaningful, as we celebrate in a small way, each day…focusing on the important moments of life.

Last week, I shared a moving video from Barbra Streisand singing You’ll Never Walk Alone. This week, I have another gift for you – the same song, but combined with Hebrew text adapted from Psalm 23 (quoted here at the top) sung by four talented young men (one of whom, I admit, is related to me!). Watch it here

Enjoy this beautiful, inspirational video as Shabbat arrives in your home – and descends upon our community and our world!

Wishing you a peaceful Shabbat – full of hope in our hearts,
Ruth Steinberg, LCSW
Director, Jewish Family Service