The Two Way Street for Lag B’Omer | “Counting”

Rabbi Joel Mosbacher
on May 11, 2020

This is a season for counting, for mourning and for anticipating new purpose.

In Jewish time, this is the period of the counting of the Omer, in which we number the days between Passover and Shavuot, between our festival of freedom and our festival of binding ourselves to God at Mount Sinai when we received the Torah. We count 50 days in all.

In our Jewish spiritual cycle, this is an anxious time. Having survived the narrow place of Egypt, having crossed the Red Sea, we now eagerly count the days to the anniversary of our spiritual marriage to the Holy One of Blessing on Mount Sinai.

Traditionally the period of counting the Omer is also a time of semi-mourning, during which Jewish law forbids haircuts, shaving, conducting weddings, parties and dinners with dancing. According to the Talmud, 12,000 pairs of Torah study partners, students of Rabbi Akiva, were killed in a plague during this time. The plague lifted on the thirty-third day of the Omer, which is now a minor holiday — Lag Ba’Omer.

Today we also count — days of isolation, new infections, deaths. The numbers grow, and with it anticipation and dread and grieving.

At the end of the counting of the Omer, we stood at Sinai. So powerful, so awe-inspiring was the moment, that the Torah says we could see the thunder.

And in that moment, we heard God’s call.

Friends, we stand, as the musical Come From Away says so beautifully, on the edge of a moment: counting the days behind us, not knowing the number of days ahead; mourning both for what we’ve lost forever, and for what is happening now.

As the Israelites travelled to Sinai, they did t’shuvah. They spiritually cleansed themselves so that the moment after they heard the word of God would not be the same as the moment before. Will our “after” be the same as “before”?

Even now, let us begin to anticipate what “after” might look like.

It will not be enough to go back to normal. “Normal” was never enough. In addition to the gaping holes in our social safety net that are being revealed by the plague, we are also seeing very clearly how the plague is being used as cover for bad political decisions. Benny Gantz uses COVID as an excuse to betray his voters and join Likud in a “unity” government. Under the cover of COVID, Benjamin Netanyahu is attempting to press forward annexation of the West Bank.

We cannot wait for “after” to demand justice. In this anxious, worried time we have to demand that the Israeli government not kill the possibility of a two-state solution. We must demand, among other things, that Palestinians are given access to the medical resources that they need. So that when we get to Sinai, after this worried, anxious trek, “after” will be different. This anxious time is critical for forging a different future.