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Quotable: In Print

"For 49 days, beginning on the second day of Passover, we count. Seven times seven weeks—each day, one more sheaf of barley; each day one step farther along the path from the Egypt to Mount Sinai; each day one setting sun closer to Shavuot and the giving of Torah. This is the Omer, the period of waiting between the barley harvest at Pesach and the wheat harvest at Shavuot.

Traditionally, this is considered a time of mourning, though what we mourn for is obscure. Are we mourning the disciples of Rabbi Akiva (2nd century), who died in a plague or in unsuccessful revolt against the Romans?...Mourning the losses of life during the Crusades? Not mourning at all, perhaps, but fretting that what we have planted in spring won’t make it to harvest in summer?

Then, on the 33rd day of the Omer— lamed (counted as 30) + gimmel (counted as 3), spelling “lag ”—on the 18th of the month of Iyyar, our mourning [lifts] and we celebrate. Our reasons for celebration are as obscure as our reasons for distress. Has the plague been lifted? Is there hope yet for our harvest? This day is one on which, traditionally, Jews have cut their hair, gotten married, lit bonfires, played in the fields with toy bows and arrows, and made merry—but made merry over what?

Whatever [the answer], the period between Pesach and Shavuot is one of waiting….We have made it out of Egypt, but our purpose in freedom has not yet been revealed. It is only with Shavuot—when every one of us is not only freed by an outside force from oppression, as we are on Passover, but each has the chance to actively choose to accept Torah and peoplehood—that, according to our yearly narrative, our purpose in freedom is found. During the Omer, we wait, and we count the days toward the light and thunder of Sinai….Lag B’Omer is a reminder that even within our sadness, we can choose joy. Even within our despair, we can choose hope. Even within our fear, we can choose courage. Even within our wilderness, we can look onward toward Sinai and see light." 

—Rabbi Jordana Schuster Battis