Hag sameach: happy Pesach to you all!
Although tonight is the second night of the festival, I've already led two seders: I went to Boston to celebrate with my sister and her family and some of her friends on Sunday night (on the theory that, while it wasn't Pesach yet, it was the night when we could be together, and we wanted a seder together), and then came home yesterday for a seder with a dozen friends here at our house.
I'm glad to have gotten two seders this year. Seder is my favorite ritual, bar none, and after all the anticipation and preparation, it's good to get two seders under my belt before waiting for next year.
Tonight kicks off a different kind of anticipation: thinking ahead to Shavuot. Tonight, we start counting the Omer. (The what, you say?) "Omer" means "measures." When the Temple stood in Jerusalem, it was customary to bring harvest offerings three times a year, at Sukkot, Pesach, and Shavuot. Some say the tradition of Counting the Omer dates to those days. We measured the seven weeks between planting new barley and harvesting it; then offered a measure, in thanks, to our Source.
Now that few of us are barley farmers, and those who are can no longer offer sacrifices at the Temple, I'd argue that practices like counting the Omer must take on new meaning or risk becoming outdated husks of observance. Today we focus less on Shavuot's harvest roots, and more on its continuing relevance as the anniversary of the day the Israelites accepted the teachings of Torah at Sinai. One midrash holds that we were all, in a mystical way, present at Sinai to forge a personal bond with the essence of the Word: that's a day worth commemorating.
Shavuot is a holiday to anticipate joyfully. We count the Omer the way we count days to birthdays or vacations, eager for what's coming.
At Pesach we celebrate our freedom from slavery; in fifty days we will celebrate our acceptance of the Torah's teachings. Counting the Omer reminds us that we are freed not only from, but also toward. Passover and Shavuot are linked stages on our collective journey to mature, thinking, engaged Jewishness: we must be free in order to accept the joyful responsibility of connecting with God and healing the world.
I'm also personally counting days until Shavuot because I'm responsible for organizing my shul's tikkun leyl Shavuot (all-night Shavuot Eve study session) this year. Only 49 days to line up the people who are going to teach! Eek! Last year we only made it until about two in the morning; we didn't have enough night owls, and a lot of people's lessons ran short, and we just kind of fizzled. I'd love to have enough excited, energized people to actually make it all night this year...