Counting the Omer – Lag B’Omer – Shavuot Celebrations!

By Olivia Tucker, Program Coordinator and Executive Assistant to Rabbi Sharyn Henry

You count.

You matter. We count on you and you count on us. The whole of our community counts.

And for the 7 Weeks or 49 Days from the 2nd day of Passover to Shavuot in June, when we commemorate receiving Torah at Mount Sinai, the whole Jewish world does a very special kind of counting.

We count… The Omer!

You may have seen this handy sign in our lobby, proclaiming on which of the 49 Days of the Omer we are, equipped with Hebrew and English for the blessing and countings of the weeks and days.

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Counting these days is a practice rooted in Leviticus 23:15-16: “You are to count from the morrow of the rest day from the day you brought the omer [sheaf of wheat] offering that is waved. There are to be seven complete weeks. You are to count until the day after the seventh week, 50 days and then bring an offering, a new gift to G-d.” One is to say the blessing for counting at each sundown.

Kabbalistic meditations (Jewish Mysticism - oo! ah!) have become part of the Omer tradition. In Kabalistic thought, sefirot are the dynamically linked aspects of the Divine in the world. Each of the seven weeks of the Omer stands for one of seven sefirot, and each day, we reflect on how those seven sefirot may be seen through the lens of that week.

Observe a chart of the ten sefirot, as well as two calendars of how each of the lower seven sefirot are studied within the mystical theme of each week.

The day I am writing this blog post is the 18th day of the Omer: the fourth day, Netzach – Endurance or Eternity – studied within the theme of the third week, Tiferet – Balance or Beauty. I am meditating on the projects, personal and professional, which I have balanced, some evenly and some delicately. Next, I consider Netzach, the steps I need to take to create a sustainable system for this harmony. You might also consider other combinations of the translations of these words. For example, how there are eternal beauties in the world around us, and how you may draw your attention and derive lessons or joy from them.

We develop by counting the Omer, the days lead us from “matzah people,” fragile and dry at our Passover Seder, to “cheesecake people,” rich and flavourful, in our Shavuot study sessions.

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As you may have noticed in the rainbow-circle calendar, some of the days of the Omer are special holidays in themselves. We have two new moons/months, and my personal favourite – Lag b’Omer – the 33rd day of the Omer. This is often called the Scholar’s Holiday, as students traditionally close their books, taking to field games, cookouts, and dancing and singing around bonfires! If you’re tracking the Kabbalah, this is the fifth day of the fifth week, Hod she’be’Hod – the day of Splendor within the week of Splendor – how marvelous!

Here are two ways to celebrate Lag b’Omer with the Pittsburgh Jewish Community:

I-Volunteer Lag B’Omer BBQ & Volunteer - Wednesday, May 22, 7 PM - 8:30 PM @ The Friendship Circle, 1922 Murray Avenue, Pittsburgh, PA 15217

  • “Join this young adult I-Volunteer as we celebrate Lag B’Omer and do some good. I-Volunteer is a collaboration organized by the Jewish Federation’s Volunteer Center. The Friendship Circle partners with Shalom Pittsburgh, Repair the World and Moishe House to encourage young adults between the ages of 18 and 45 of all abilities to combine entertainment with community service in a comfortable social setting. Together, they perform meaningful work within the Pittsburgh community.”

CDS Lag B’Omer Bonfire - Wednesday, May 22, 7 PM - 8:30 PM @ Community Day School, 6424 Forward Ave, Pittsburgh, PA 15217

  • “The Squirrel Hill Jewish K-8 will be opening up its upper field for a great big bonfire! Feel free to bring family and snack. There might even be s’mores…” As I mentioned earlier, after the 49 Days of the Omer, we reach Shavuot (“weeks”), a harvest holiday commemorating our receiving Torah at Mount Sinai. Many Jews celebrate by staying up late studying and eating cheesecake.

I’d also love to see you at…

Tikkun Leil Shavuot - Saturday, June 8, 10 PM - Sunday, June 9, 1 AM @ JCC Squirrel Hill 5738 Forbes Avenue  Pittsburgh, PA 15217

  • “A night of Jewish Learning - Free & Open to the Community: Our community conducts our ‘Tikkun’ AS A COMMUNITY. With a series of study sessions taking place at the JCC in Squirrel Hill commencing at 10 pm and running until 1 am, we have lined up teachers and Rabbis representing all the streams of Judaism. Special thanks to each of them for giving of themselves so generously.” I hope you will join me at this extraordinary demonstration of unity and of commitment to Jewish learning. Whether you come for just an hour or spend all three with us, this is something not to be missed, and we have free cheesecake.

Followed by…

Young Adult Tikkun Leil Shavuot - Sunday, June 9, 1 AM - 5 AM @ 5738 Forbes Avenue, Pittsburgh, PA 15217

  • “The learning continues! After the Community Tikkun Leil ends the learning will continue at the JCC for young adults and anyone who wants to join! Tikkun Leil Shavuot learning begins Saturday, June 8 at 10 pm, but the Young Adult learning session will not begin until Sunday, June 9 at 1 am. Hosted by the Young Adult Division of the Jewish Federation the Shavuot fun will continue with study lead by rabbis, Jewish educators and young adult community members. Don’t worry, there will be plenty of coffee and ice cream to keep you going until morning!

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Growing up, I never knew much about the Omer or Shavuot, maybe because our Hebrew School year is over before June. I invite you to try out one of these many ways into the season, especially if you’ve never tried them before or hadn’t even heard of them before this blog post. We’re in a sacred time, so whether you’re joining the bonfire, eating cheesecake over Talmud at 3 am, or counting the evenings in your personal practice – may it be that you find the connections you seek.

Peace & Blessings,

Olivia

Rodef Shalom