The fifty days between Pesach and Shavuot contain a number of commemorations that range from the most ancient to the most modern of our people’s history. Beginning with the birth of our nation and our peoplehood with the exodus from Egypt, the period ends with the birth of our covenant relationship with God as a people at Mount Sinai.
In between, the fifty days of the Omer are days of semi mourning for a reason we are never quite clear about. Some say it is in memory of the oppression of Jews under the Romans, and the failure of the revolts against them; Others that 24 thousand students of Rabbi Akiva died in that period of a plague. One the thirty third day we have Lag B’Omer – (Lamed Gimel = 33) which provided a brief change in fortunes for the beleaguered Jews of the time.
Less than a week after the end of Pesach, when we commemorate the miraculous deliverance of the Israelites at the Red Sea on the seventh day of the festival, we remember a period when deliverance did not come. The abortive uprising in the Warsaw Ghetto, and all the murdered victims of the Holocaust are recalled on Yom ha Shoah ve’ha’Gevurah – the day for remembering the holocaust and the heroism.
A week later, and more of our dead are remembered on Yom ha Zikaron – the day of memorial for those who gave their lives for the emerging State of Israel. The day after that we mark Yom Ha’atzma’ut – Israel’s independence day, and this looks forward to the last week of the Omer period and its 44th day when Yom Yerushalayim commemorates the reunification of the city in the Six Day War.
So in fifty days we range over three thousand five hundred years of history. We see victories and defeats, celebrations and mourning. We observe Festivals that are at the core of our being as Jews, we see half festivals, not-really-festivals, and festivals in the making. We see the dynamism and the forward thrust of Judaism which continues to create liturgy and ritual through which to express the most contemporary of events, and we look forward to messianic age promised in all our celebrations at this time But as we look forward, we also remember, are reminded, have memory of, recall, memorialise, commemorate, reminisce. All these events have one thing in common, both past and future, the intertwined and symbiotic fate of the nation of Israel and people of Israel.
We are all Israel, connected to each other, to our history, to our future and to our historic land. That connection and what happens to the land remains even today integral to what happens to the people. We are a people, a tribe, links in a chain that never breaks.
The purpose of the exodus from Egypt was not simply freedom from slavery, it is freedom with a purpose – the purpose fulfilled at Shavuot, the unbreakable covenant we made with God, a covenant made for all generations, for those who were there at the time and those who were not there, for those born into the people and those who chose to join it.
The time between Pesach and Shavuot is a time that we count, a time we make count. We build up to the Sinaitic moment where God and people connect in a way never seen before nor since. We live and are nourished from that moment.
Shavuot is often overlooked, a festival without much ritual in the home, and all night study in the synagogue doesn’t appeal to everyone. But it marks a pivotal moment in our narrative and our formation.
Shavuot is celebrated this year (2022) on Saturday 4th in the evening till Sunday 5th in the evening (or Monday if you follow the diaspora tradition of a second day).
Find yourself a community of learners, a community of pray-ers and celebrate Shavuot, take yourself to Sinai and recommit to the eternal covenant. And then move forward into the rest of the Jewish year, away from Sinai and onto the journey that builds the people of Israel and binds us together as we go through the desert to the promised land.