Each and every moment of every day has sacred potential or, as 20th century theologian, Martin Buber taught, every area of life can be divided between the holy and the not-yet holy.
Take the time period between the start of the second day of Passover and the start of Shavuot. Each one of these forty-nine days is marked with a blessing that ties it to our agricultural roots and the eventual first grain offering in the Temple on Shavuot in ancient days.
Hang on just a minute!!!
The Temple no longer stands.
We no longer journey to Jerusalem to offer God the first fruits of our labours.
In fact, there are no first fruits of our labours. (Unless you happen to be a farmer…which most of us are not.)
Yet, we still follow the practice of counting the days of the omer???
My kids love this tradition. For starters, kids love countdowns. (Though technically this is a countup.) I don’t know if it’s because countdowns provide a framework for the intangible passage of time. Or the instant gratification of crossing off a day or putting a sticker on the day or however the countdown works.
Each day of the omer means we are one day closer to the festival of Shavuot, which celebrates the giving of the Torah. It is traditional to eat dairy foods on Shavuot and in our house, that means a Make-Your-Own Sundae Bar. (‘Cause that’s how we roll.)
Last night was Tuesday night. And on Tuesday nights, Jacob is always completely knackered.
[After school, Jacob has two hours of Hebrew school, grabs a quick dinner, swim lessons, homework while Lilly finishes swim practice, and then home to eat again and fall into bed.]
I pulled out the Omer calendar and we recited the blessing and put the sticker on the day. We chatted for a few minutes and just as I was about to start the Sh’ma, Jacob said, “hey, we didn’t do the omer.”
I reminded him that we had done it, but he said that he was so sleepy that he didn’t remember saying it.
We have to say it again so that I remember saying it. Better safe than sorry.
“Better safe than sorry” sounds like a great plan, right? Covering one’s bases and all.
However, there is a principle in Judaism called safek b’racha. Jewish Law, in an attempt to prevent one from taking God’s Name in vain, prohibits us from making a b’racha levatalah (wasted blessing). Repeating a blessing “when in doubt” might actually cause one to make a wasted blessing thereby taking God’s Name in vain. The determining factor is whether the commanded action is Biblically-mandated or Rabbinically-mandated.
If the action is mandated by the Torah, then one should repeat it. If mandated by the Rabbis, one should not repeat it.
Omer is commanded in the Torah. So we could have just repeated it.
Instead, Jacob and I had a chat about what is gained by repeating the blessing versus what might be lost if one doesn’t repeat it. In that moment, I was aware of God’s Presence.
Because — and this is kind-of the entire point — it’s the conversation that makes this holy. Technically, it’s the blessing that elevates the moment. But as a parent, it’s when my child and I delve into a topic that I feel God’s Presence sitting beside us.
So, yes. As the Psalmist taught, we shall continue to number our days (Ps. 90:12). And invite the Holy One to reside with us as we share our most sacred moments.