Weekly Torah Commentary — Passover & the Omer April 10, 2015

As we are coming to the end of this year’s Passover celebration, the regular reading of the Torah portions is not resumed until next week.  So, let’s look at a relevant topic in which the Jewish people are involved at present.

From the second day of Passover, we are commanded to “count the omer.” 

You shall count for yourselves — from the day after the Shabbat, from the day when you bring the Omer of the waving — seven Shabbats, they shall be complete. Until the day after the seventh sabbath you shall count, fifty days… -Leviticus 23:15-16

You shall count for yourselves seven weeks, from when the sickle is first put to the standing crop shall you begin counting seven weeks. Then you will observe the Festival of Shavu’ot for the LORD, your God. -Deuteronomy 16:9-10

So what is this all about?

We are counting the days between the first day of Passover – when the Exodus from Egypt took place – to the festival of Shavuot or Pentecost, when the Torah was given on Mt. Sinai. The practice is designed to remind us that the deliverance from Egypt had as its great purpose to lead the former slaves to a life-changing encounter with God Himself on Mt. Sinai, where they were gifted with His instructions for achieving a life of holiness. Counting the omer is a means to keep forefront in our mind the truth that the redemption from Egypt was not only about ‘going out’. More importantly, it was about ‘coming in’ to an intimate relationship with God Himself.

As there is no Temple today where an omer of grain can be waved before the God of Israel, as we count each day and recite a blessing that accompanies the counting, our anticipation increases, much as a bride counts the days until her wedding. A love for and desire to receive the Word of the Living God is stirred within us as we anticipate Shavuot.

It is a period of inner reflection. How much do I love the Word of God? How often do I read it? Meditate on it? If I review my activities over the past month, the past three months, the past six months, did I spend more time reading other books, newspapers and magazines than I devoted to thoughtful reading of the Scriptures?

Psalm 119 is full of exhortations towards reading and meditating on God’s Word. For example, “Deal bountifully with Your servant that I may live and keep Your Word. Open my eyes, that I may behold wonderful things from your Torah. I am a stranger in the earth; do not hide Your commandments from me.”

And, “Oh, how I love Your Torah! It is my meditation all day long. Your commandments make me wiser than my enemies.”

And again, “Your Word is a lamp unto my feet and a light to my path.”

And one of my favorites: “Those who love Your Word have great peace, and nothing causes them to stumble.”

Indeed, taking Psalm 119 as a guide for prayer and meditation would keep one going for several weeks, even months.

What countless ills in our modern society stem from a marginalizing of God’s Word in our society? How many personal and family issues could be resolved in a godly way by each individual applying the teachings of Scripture in humility and faithfulness?

Counting the Omer is a season of weeks in which we are called to remember that though heaven and earth pass away, the revelation of the Living God, His inestimable Words of truth and light, will never, ever pass away.

In Tune with Torah this week = take a fresh look at the Scriptures, approaching them as if you were receiving this gift for the very first time. Ask God to open your mind to His revelation, to grant you understanding and the accompanying grace to put into practice all that you learn from these sacred pages.

Shabbat Shalom

Weekly Torah Commentary — EMOR April 25, 2014

EMOR Vayikra/Leviticus 21:1 – 24:3

And you shall count for yourselves from the morrow after the Sabbath, from the day that you brought the omer of the wave offering; seven complete Sabbaths shall there be: to the morrow after the seventh Sabbath shall you number fifty days and you shall offer a new meal offering to the Lord. (Leviticus 23:15-16)

We are presently in the process of obeying this commandment as we are in the days of the counting of the Omer, which leads up to the festival of Shavuot, the day of the giving of the Torah.

Why would God, in remembrance of Pesach (Passover), command us to number or count these forty-nine days? The simple answer is that God wants us to realize the exodus out of Egypt was more than just the liberation of the Hebrew slaves. The exodus was directly connected to their arrival at Mount Sinai and to the receiving of the Torah on the fiftieth day.

The Israelites had been weakened physically, emotionally, and spiritually by the Egyptians. The years of backbreaking labor had taken a physical toll on the people. It was hard for them to keep an emotional balance while living in slavery. Understandably, there were emotions of hatred, bitterness, anger, and frustration. Spiritually they had been battered by the paganism of Egypt and their thousands of gods.

Their belief in the One True God had been passed down to them by Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, and his sons. No doubt, among many of the people, there was a wavering of this belief because of the severity of their conditions.

The word for Egypt in Hebrew is “mitzrayim.” The root meaning of this word is ‘boundaries and limitations’. Thus, in Egypt there was an oppressive and restrictive atmosphere that hung over the Israelites. The Egyptians restrained the Israelites’ freedom of movement and their freedom of expression.

As the children of Israel left Egypt, they were freed from their oppressive constraints. They now had to shed their emotional baggage as well to prepare for the monumental experience of receiving the Torah. This meant that negative emotions; such as, hatred, bitterness, anger, and frustration had to be replaced with the positive emotions of love, compassion, benevolence, harmony, and humility, to name a few.

We know the rest of the story. The Israelites did make it to Mount Sinai and they did receive the Torah; however, it was not without some major bumps along the way. There were complaints over water, food, and a major complaint over the whereabouts of Moses, which led to the golden calf incident. As a result, not everyone that left Egypt was standing at Mount Sinai on the fiftieth day.

What about us today, how can we apply the counting of the Omer to our lives?

We also have negative emotions that affect us through our surroundings. Today, our work load has been increased, prices of goods and commodities have risen, taxes have risen, and our overall ability to enjoy life has been diminished. Also, cultural norms have seeped into our lives with humanistic thought and behavior; slowly turning us away from God’s commandments to a morally bankrupt set of principles and practices.

What about the nation in which you live? And I live? Is our nation restricting our freedom of movement and restricting our freedom of expression? Our rights to travel, relocate, and voice our grievances with our national leaders were denied in Egypt prior to the exodus. What’s happening today?

Additionally, how would we judge our nation concerning its level of spiritual righteousness or spiritual impurity? Is our nation doing well or is it sinking close to the level of God’s judgment?

Because of the conditions surrounding us, the counting of the Omer takes on a new importance. It allows us personally to spend these forty-nine days exchanging our negative emotions for positive ones. The end result will be that we will arrive at a higher spiritual level, which will allow us to receive and understand the Torah in a greater way. Thus, we will let a greater light of Torah shine forth to the people around us, to our community, to our nation, and ultimately the world.

In Tune with Torah this week = this is the time to take inventory of our emotional life and determine whether or not we need to exchange irritability for patience, frustration for trusting prayer, fear for faith and stress for quiet confidence in our God.

Shabbat Shalom!

Portions of this week’s commentary were taken from an article found on THYME FOR THE SOUL magazine.