Monday, April 6, 2015

A New Twist on the Omer

By Elliot Skiddell, Rabbi of Beth Emeth Reconstructionist Synagogue of Rockville Centre, NY [The Voice Inside My Head]

On the second night of Pesach [Passover] it is a tradition to begin the countdown of 49 days until the holiday of Shavuot.  This tradition is known as Counting the Omer since, in ancient times, this was the period of the Spring grain harvest and an Omer is a measure of grain.  Our agricultural ancestors were filled with anxiety during this period of seven weeks from Pesach to Shavuot, uncertain how the harvest would be.  In the Land of Israel – as in North America – the weather during this period is unstable, it is a time of transition and each day’s weather is unpredictable. Most of us, living in suburbs and cities, are not attuned to the agricultural cycles, but we sill pay attention to the weather reports so we know how to dress in the morning and can make our weekend plans.  Our fellow Americans in the Midwest, the South, the West and all areas where farming is a more prevalent way of life than here in the commercialized Northeast are more cognizant of meteorological phenomena such as drought or Spring floods. Maybe we should pay more attention, though, because the weather “out there” has a direct impact on our tables and our pocketbooks.  Drought in California means higher prices for fruit and vegetables, floods in the Midwest mean an increase in the price of bread and frost in Florida means our morning OJ will cost more.  How can we transform the ancient ritual of the Omer, the ceremonial grain offering brought to the Temple, to have meaning for our modern world?  I want to suggest that we take time to think about where our food comes from and offer prayers of thanks to those who provide our daily bread.  I also want to ask us all to think of those who are deeply affected when food prices rise.  Most of us don’t feel the impact of the cost of bread or our morning cereal going up, but there are too many among us who will face hard choices when a box of cornflakes costs more than it did a week ago.  We can bring our grain offerings, just as our ancestors did, by bringing boxes of cereal, bags of rice, barley and other grain based foods for the food pantry.  Let that be our Counting of the Omer!

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