By: Liore Milgrom-Elcott
With bellies full of delicious breads and cereals, many have put the thoughts of Passover behind them. Yet, there is a tradition called Sefirat HaOmer – counting of the Omer – which counts each of the 50 days leading up to Shavuot. Though rooted in daily grain offerings, rabbis transformed the Omer into a way to relive the journey from Exodus to the giving of the Torah at Mt. Sinai.
But there is a layer even more ancient. As my grandfather (one can shep nachas from a grandparent, no?), Rabbi Jacob Milgrom (PhD) taught me years ago, the Omer also measures the passing of dangerous times, when the hot winds called hamsin (Sirocco) could blow in and destroy the season’s crops. Hamsin is derived from the number 50 – hamishim in Hebrew and hamsun in Arabic. This period of danger lasted 50 days, mirroring the span between Pesach and Shavuot, days which the people counted in trepidation until the danger passed.
1. Understanding the Might of Nature
The agricultural tradition of the Omer reminds us that nature has powers that are beyond our control. Now more than ever, one of the greatest threats is the extremes in weather caused by climate change that technology has not yet solved.
2. Appreciating Nature
Shavuot is also called Chag HaBikkurim, festival of the first fruits. As such, it is customary to adorn the synagogue with flowers and greenery. Growing up, we extended this tradition to our home where, to prepare, my siblings and I would wander in the backyard, clippers in hand, in order to convert our home into a green wonder.
3. Lowering our Carbon Emissions
Lastly, Shavuot lowers the carbon footprint of the Jewish people for two whole days with its culinary tradition – DAIRY! Though there is no one source for this custom, there are multiple examples for Torah being compared to dairy. A beautiful text for #2, Deuteronomy 32:13, describes God/Torah nourishing the people in this way: “God nursed (the way a mother nurses a baby) on honey from the rock.” Torah nourished the people of Israel; Torah is like divine milk. On Shavuot we not only study Torah, but eat it, too!
We would like to reconnect Shavuot with its agricultural and environmental traditions – if your community has found ways to do just that, please share the program and/or story here by commenting below.
Today is the 9th Day, 1 week and 2 days of the Omer
Some links for Omer Study
Jewish Reconstructionist Federation’s Omer Tikkun Olam Text Study
Religious Action Center’s Social Justice Guide for Shavuot
MyJewishLearning.com Omer Section
Counting the Omer: A Tool for Nature Consciousness, Canfei Nesharim
United Synagogue – Making Each Day Count