Observant Jews started counting the Omer on the second night of Passover, and will continue until Shavuot (49 days later). The Omer was a measure of barley offered in the Temple in Jerusalem. The seven weeks recalls the time between the exodus from Egypt and the giving of the Torah at Mount Sinai.
I wouldn’t recognize a measure of barley if you dumped it on my lap. (For all I know you could have given me wheat, or oats, or spelt--whatever that is).
Since the first century CE the Omer has also been a time of partial mourning. Ostensibly, we recall the plague that killed a score or so of Jewish scholars during the time of Rabbi Akiva. Somehow, losing dozens of rabbis to a plague, while sad, doesn’t seem tragic. For a whole religion to mourn this loss 2 thousand years later, when as a people we’ve suffered so much more, seems incongruous.
And yet, the idea of a people engaging in seven weeks of mourning has value. Seven weeks of daily reminders that death looms large, that injustice is rampant, that we SHOULD feel uncomfortable sitting in our safe homes, is not a high price to pay.
There is much to mourn in this world. School shootings have become so common they don’t rate “breaking news” coverage. Hate crimes of all stripes are on the rise--and are being normalized. The institutionalized racism of police brutality barely raises eyebrows. The plight of thousands of migrants across the world is mostly ignored. I could go on. I probably should, the catalog of horrors is extensive.
Jews seem to mourn a lot. The Omer, the period around Tisha B’av, Yom HaShoah, Yom HaZikaron--I’m probably missing some more. We will run out of days in the year if we keep adding days of sorrow. But, we don’t need to add days, maybe we should just add depth. Each day of the Omer can be a day to recall lives lost, lives at risk and lives of suffering. Not just Jewish lives, not just from plague, not just two thousand years ago.
We owe it to those who suffer. We owe it to ourselves. We should take the time to navel gaze, and to resolve to be better.
I can recognize that if you dump it on my lap.