On the sixth day of the third month (Sivan), seven weeks after the Exodus, the entire nation of Israel assembles at the foot of Mount Sinai. G-d descends on the mountain amidst thunder, lightning, billows of smoke and the blast of the shofar, and summons Moses to ascend.
G-d proclaims the Ten Commandments, commanding the people of Israel to believe in G-d, not to worship idols or take G-d’s name in vain, to keep the Shabbat, honor their parents, not to murder, not to commit adultery, not to steal, and not to bear false witness or covet another’s property. The people cry out to Moses that the revelation is too intense for them to bear, begging him to receive the Torah from G-d and convey it to them.
The Parashah in a Nutshell
Yitro in Nutshell
Starting the second night of Pesach, we begin counting seven weeks, 49 days, until the holiday of Shavuos. This counting is called Sefiras Ha’Omer, The Counting of the Omer. (For more information on Sefiras Ha’Omer, see I:16, I:18)
-Rabbi Yehudah Prero
“The Counting of the Omer – A Count of Anticipation”
YomTov, Vol. IV, # 7
We see the events of the Torah reflected in current Jewish practice. According to the commandments (Ex. 12:16, Ex. 23:14, Lev. 23:7) the Jewish people commemorate the Passover every year in order to remember the Passover in Egypt and the great exodus of the Israelites from slavery to freedom. Then comes the Omer count, whereby Jews are commanded to count the Omer for 49 days in anticipation of the festival of Shavuot, which commemorates the giving of the Torah at Sinai. The events we see displayed with such grandeur and majesty before us when we read the Torah portions that relate these times, are part of the lived experience of every religious Jew and any Gentile who is attached to the Jewish community for various reasons.
But there’s one other event that we Christians must consider.
And when evening had come, since it was the day of Preparation, that is, the day before the Sabbath, Joseph of Arimathea, a respected member of the council, who was also himself looking for the kingdom of God, took courage and went to Pilate and asked for the body of Jesus. Pilate was surprised to hear that he should have already died. And summoning the centurion, he asked him whether he was already dead. And when he learned from the centurion that he was dead, he granted the corpse to Joseph. And Joseph bought a linen shroud, and taking him down, wrapped him in the linen shroud and laid him in a tomb that had been cut out of the rock. And he rolled a stone against the entrance of the tomb. Mary Magdalene and Mary the mother of Joses saw where he was laid. –Mark 15:42-47 (ESV)
According to the Gospel of Mark, Jesus was crucified on the same day as all of the representatives of the Jewish families in Israel were presenting their Passover lambs for sacrifice at the Temple in Jerusalem, in obedience to the commandment. He should have died right before sunset; right before the eating of the Passover lamb by each Jewish family, again, in obedience to the commandment.
But not all of the Gospel versions of the death of Jesus line up chronologically and we cannot be sure of the exact date. Was the “Last Supper” a true Passover seder or some other meal that occurred the evening before? We don’t know. We do know that Jesus died at about the time of the Passover, and we are fond of referring to Jesus as our “Passover lamb”. And three days later, Jesus rose from the tomb and he was with his people again for forty days. And then he ascended.
In the first book, O Theophilus, I have dealt with all that Jesus began to do and teach, until the day when he was taken up, after he had given commands through the Holy Spirit to the apostles whom he had chosen. He presented himself alive to them after his suffering by many proofs, appearing to them during forty days and speaking about the kingdom of God…And when he had said these things, as they were looking on, he was lifted up, and a cloud took him out of their sight. –Acts 1:1-3, 9 (ESV)
It would be nice if things lined up neatly but forty days does not equal the forty-nine day count of the Omer. Maybe this is one of the reasons why Christians don’t also “count the Omer” from the day of the crucifixion, which the church calls “Good Friday” to the day of the giving of the Holy Spirit, which Christians call “Pentecost”, but which also was the day of the festival of Shavuot commemorating the Sinai event.
So the Bible and our celebrations don’t line up into nice, neat, perfectly ordered events and holidays. I also understand that, during the schism between Gentile Christianity and Jewish Messianism, most or all of the Jewish connections to the Christian faith were summarily erased, along with the Jewishness of Jesus. Christians were not taught to count the Omer and in fact, were likely forbidden to perform any celebration of their faith that even vaguely resembled the worship of the Jews.
But wouldn’t it be great if, after the return of the Messiah, the Jews and the Gentiles counted the Omer together, in commemoration of the Passover and the gift of the Messiah to humanity? For just as death passed over the obedient Israelites in Egypt, so has eternal death passed over all who are faithful and obedient to Jesus, the lamb of God, who gave his life for the sake of the world and yet lives. And the giving of the Torah and the giving of the Holy Spirit nourishes all of the Master’s disciples, in accordance to our covenant relationship with God.
But for this tearing down of the wall of enmity to happen, we Christians must not be careless or dismissive of the things that God has created for the Jews and for the good of everyone.
As a young boy, Rabbi Yosef Yitzchak (the sixth Lubavitcher Rebbe) would go with his father on walks through the woods. One time, as they talked, the boy absent-mindedly plucked a leaf off a tree and began to shred it between his fingers. His father saw what his son was doing, but he went on talking. He spoke about the Baal Shem Tov, who taught how every leaf that blows in the wind—moving to the right and then to the left, how and when it falls and where it falls to—every motion for the duration of its existence is under the detailed supervision of the Almighty.
That concern the Creator has for each thing, his father explained, is the divine spark that sustains its existence. Everything is with Divine purpose, everything is of concern to the ultimate goal of the entire cosmos.
”Now,” the father gently chided, “look how you mistreated so absent-mindedly the Almighty’s creation.”
”He formed it with purpose and gave it a Divine spark! It has its own self and its own life! Now tell me, how is the ‘I am’ of the leaf any less than your own ‘I am’?”
-Rabbi Tzvi Freeman
“Purpose of a Leaf”
Based on letters and talks of the Rebbe
Rabbi M. M. Schneerson
Do not shred a “leaf” too quickly, for you may not correctly understand why God created and sustained it. So it is with the Jewish people. So it is with counting the Omer. So it will be one day when a few, and then many, and then all of Israel sees the Divine spark, the “I am” in the Messiah; in Jesus of Nazareth.