Counting the Omer; and an invitation to teach at Shavuot

Dear Congregation Beth Israel members and friends,

On the second night of Pesach, we begin Counting the Omer — the 49 days between Pesach and Shavuot, between the celebration of our freedom and the celebration of receiving Torah at Sinai. I’ll be posting daily Omer meditations to the From the Rabbi blog during those 49 days; each one will “go live” around 6pm, and will feature a teaching, perhaps a question or two for reflection, and the blessing for the daily Omer count.

If you’d like to receive those meditations via email, you can go to https://congregationbethisrael.wordpress.com/ and click on the “Sign me up!” button under the heading “Follow Blog via Email”; alternatively, if you use an RSS reader or feed reader, you can subscribe to the Omer postings by subscribing to https://congregationbethisrael.wordpress.com/category/omer/ (And if that last sentence was gibberish to you, please feel free to ignore it.)

Counting the Omer has become one of my favorite spiritual practices: a chance to notice each day as it passes, to reflect on the different combinations of divine (and human) qualities which the Jewish mystics of Tzfat assigned to each day in the journey, to link Pesach with Shavuot and exodus with covenant.

And on the 50th day comes Shavuot, when we celebrate the revelation of Torah at Sinai and the covenant formed on that day between God and all of us. This year, we’ll begin our Shavuot celebrations a bit early — on that Shabbat afternoon, May 26, Jesse Cohen will be called to the Torah as a bar mitzvah at a special mincha / maariv service. And later that evening we’ll hold our communal celebration of Shavuot along with the community of Congregation Beth-El in Bennington and the Williams College faculty community (the students will, alas, already be gone for the year.)

This year we will again celebrate Shavuot at the Williams College Jewish Religious Center. We’ll begin at 9pm with a short-and-sweet festival ma’ariv (evening) service, and then we’ll segue into an evening of studying and noshing. It’s traditional to study Torah all night on Shavuot, so that we don’t replicate the behavior of our ancestors at Sinai (who, midrash tells us, slept in and almost missed the revelation.) We rarely last all night long, but we’ll learn together for at least a few hours; in recent years, the last stalwarts have finished our learning with a sweet little ritual around 2am, but there’s no need to commit to staying all night — come for whatever amount of time you can.

This year’s theme will be the book of Ruth, which is the book customarily read on Shavuot. (Here’s a link to Ruth online, in Hebrew and English — though that English translation is a bit archaic.) It’s a beautiful novella, and is well worth rereading. If you would like to offer a teaching, please let me know — all are welcome, and the teaching needn’t be long or complicated. You could lead us in a discussion of part of the story, or share poetry relating to Ruth, or talk about questions of who’s inside our community and who’s outside it, or talk about Ruth and conversion, or explore Ruth from a literary point of view, or focus on Ruth as a paragon of kindness and what we might learn from her choices — the possibilities are limitless.

It’s also traditional to enjoy dairy on Shavuot, so  that evening we will also enjoy cheesecake, espresso milkshakes (how else to stay up into the wee hours?), and conversation.

I’ll send more reminders as the date approaches. For now: I wish you a sweet Pesach; feel free to sign up for daily Omer emails if you’re so inclined; and let me know what you want to teach at Shavuot!

Blessings,

Reb Rachel

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