Tag Archives: counting the omer

On Not Counting the Omer

omer symbol

I keep forgetting about Shavuot. I haven’t been counting the Omer, although in the past, I’ve made a case for non-Jewish Christians doing so.

My lack of “observance” isn’t Messianic Judaism’s fault, it’s mine.

Some time ago, someone in the MJ movement reached out to me privately asking for my participation in something. I asked a few follow-up questions, but as time passed, I never responded.

This pretty much says that if I feel any form of disconnection with my chosen religious framework, it’s because of me.

I suppose I could say “once burned, twice shy,” but that’s not true either. I’m an adult, so I don’t have to let a few bad experiences color my judgment. I’ve had a lot of other good experiences.

Truth be told, I don’t live the sort of life that lends itself to “Messianic community.”

Well, that’s only sort of true. The real truth is that I’ve reached an equilibrium point; a place of balance.

Even more to the point, I wonder how much I have left to say on the topic?

Once upon a time, I believe some people considered me to be the “Messianic Gentile” who asked the questions most other MGs were only thinking. However, maybe there are just so many of those questions lying around, and now all that’s left is to rehash and rehash the same themes, just like how Hollywood keeps remaking the same old tired TV shows and movies.

I know there is a Messianic future where all disciples of Rav Yeshua will be engaged and we will have a direction in which to follow. Then, like now, we will have a choice to make as to how involved we want to be.

Most people, without a lot of discipline and motivation, tend to settle for “lukewarm.” The Bible doesn’t say very good things about being lukewarm.

I can read the Bible and study various tomes, but that doesn’t make me an expert on anything except being me. I have no astute or elegantly intelligent opinions to offer. I occasionally find the insights of certain scholars to be enlightening, but you can read them for yourselves. You don’t need me.

Blogging, and especially religious blogging, is about community. If no one reads your stuff, you are alone. People have read my stuff here, which has been pretty terrific for the most part. However, in my opinion, the most interesting articles I’ve authored have been about community (or the lack thereof), because in the end, we may need God the most, but we need each other, too. That’s why worship is corporate and not just one guy or one gal sitting alone in a room with a Bible.

I’ve noticed a severe drop off in participation from both supporters and detractors over the long months. Part of that is because I had to restrict some people from making comments due to the level of hostility that was being expressed.

However, I think also it may be because a lot of others like me are reaching the same “tipping point” relative to their involvement in “the movement.” After crossing a particular threshold, there’s just nowhere else to go, especially if you are “unevenly yoked” like I am.

It’s sometimes said that “love is a verb.” You don’t really love unless you act upon it and “do unto others.” Faith is a verb, too. It’s not something you sit around cherishing in the abstract. If you want to have a relationship with God, you have to “do” the relationship. Otherwise it dies, or worse, it continues to exist, but gets stale, like that carton of milk in the back of your fridge you’ve been ignoring.

In the end, whether it’s you or me or somebody else, if you want to be more than lukewarm, you either have to turn the heat up or off.

I suppose that’s why a lot of we MGs have historically been upset that we don’t have a ritual system as do observant Jews. Ritual and tradition are things that we do, not just contemplate.

Unlike observant Jews, Gentiles have to get up off of their rear ends and “do” something. We have no ritual unless it’s a personal one, which is fine and dandy.

When I want to stop being lukewarm, I may not end up counting the Omer or building my small, family sukkah, but I will have to do something. The same goes for the rest of humanity. God did what He was and is going to do. The rest is up to us, at least until Messiah returns.

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Counting Down

Torah at SinaiOn 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
Exodus 18:1–20:23
Chabad.org

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
Torah.org

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
Chabad.org

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.