Oops, I forgot the Omer!

Image: This is only a drill. Photo of drill by Mitch Wright on Pixabay.com.

You resolved that this year, you are going to keep the Counting of the Omer all the way from Passover to Shavuot, and then somehow, somewhere, you realized that you lost count.

Perhaps it was just a single blessing – after dinner, you go to say the blessing and the number suddenly brings the awareness that you FORGOT it last night.

Or perhaps you see something about it online (like this article?) and realize that in fact you don’t even remember when or how you lost count.

What to do? Give up? Sigh and think, “I’m a bad Jew”?

Never!

I would like to introduce a word to your Jewish vocabulary: the word “PRACTICING.”

As in “I am PRACTICING to count the Omer.”

Perhaps this wasn’t the year for a full-on, complete Counting of the Omer.

Perhaps you aren’t quite ready for that yet.

That’s OK. You are not sitting around doing nothing. You are practicing to count the omer.

And like anyone who is learning an art, you have made mistakes. No big deal! How will you get better at it? By practicing.

So pick up with today, recheck how to do it, and get back to practicing!

Some tools:

The Homer Calendar – All the tools you need to count the omer, plus added humor.

Counting of the Omer – An Omer Calendar, with blessings, on ReformJudaism.org

Some people like to use their smartphone for reminders. Go to your source for apps, and search “Omer Counter” or “Count the Omer” or just “Omer.” I used to have an Android app I recommended, but it was improved into uselessness, so I don’t recommend it anymore. Check out the apps, and if you find one you like, recommend it in the Comments section, please!

 

Bringing Along the Bones

So… Passover is nearly over. We’re on our way to Sinai, a journey from redemption to responsibility.

When Moses and the people of Israel left Egypt, they carried the bones of Joseph with them. (Exodus 13:19) He had requested that they do so when he prophesied that they would someday leave Egypt and go home. (Genesis 50:25) Those bones would wander with the people of Israel for over forty years, until they were finally put to rest in Shechem. (Joshua 24:32) Moses made sure they brought those bones with them because of an ancient promise. Joshua saw to it that the bones were buried in the soil of Shechem to fulfill the promise.

Likely the “bones” of Joseph were actually his mummified body in a wooden box. He had been a high official in Pharaoh’s government, so he would have been buried as an Egyptian courtier. Moses took the time and trouble to locate the box and to carry it along, despite the danger, despite the need to move quickly.

What would you bring along, if you suddenly had to leave your home on short notice? Photos? Legal papers? A precious antique? The pets? The children’s toys? What if you knew you were going to have to walk hundreds of miles? What would you choose to leave behind? What would be too precious to leave?

Passover is almost behind us now. It’s time to look around and say, what practices, what insights am I going to bring along with me, as I walk towards the future? What hurts, what old grudges, what outmoded ideas will I decide to leave behind in Egypt?

Passover Greetings

Image: A fresh spring salad. Photo by Jill111 via Pixabay.com.

Yes, Passover is still going on – the seders may be over, but we’re still scattering matzah crumbs at my house.

Most people know the simplest Passover greetings:

Chag sameach!” (Khahg sah-MAY-akh)  means Happy Holiday. The proper reply is simply “Chag sameach!” right back.

Pesach sameach” (PAY-sahkh sah-MAY-akh) means Happy Passover. The proper reply is simply “Pesach sameach.”

However, in the middle days of Passover are different. They are called the Chol HaMoed, which translates to “Ordinary (days) of the festival.” That means that regular activities like work are permitted (which they aren’t on the chagim, the holy days at the beginning and at the end).

There’s a special greeting for the chol hamoed, the middle days:

Moadim l’simchah!”  (moh-ah-DEEM l-seem-KHAH) – “Festival of Happiness!”

The proper reply to this is, “Chagim U’zmanim L’sasson” – (Khahg-EEM oo-z’mahn-EEM l’sah-SOHN”   “Holiday and Times of Joy!”

Thanks to Rabbi Rebecca Einstein Schorr, who reminded me of these special greetings in a facebook conversation.

Pack Your Bags, We’re Out of Here.

What does it really mean, to leave Egypt in our own time?

The name for Egypt in the Torah is Mitzrayim (meetz-RYE-yeem.) That means “a narrow place.” We can easily see how it got its name when we look at a map of Ancient Egypt:

Image: Map of Egypt by Jeff Dahl or CC BY-SA 4.0-3.0-2.5-2.0-1.0 , via Wikimedia Commons

Ancient_Egypt_map-en.svgThe green area in this map is the arable, liveable Egypt. The Nile is at its heart, source of food, source of water. Without the Nile, no one could live in Egypt. With it, it is the wealthiest, most stable empire of the ancient world. Just beyond the reach of the Nile, though, lies desert, one might even say deadly desert, on each side of it stretching for hundreds of miles.

We can learn a lot from this map, for instance: Egypt was the original “tight spot.” In a land so narrow, I imagine that there could be very few secrets, except the secrets everyone agreed to keep.

It took bravery to leave Egypt overland. Leaving meant not just leaving behind the bad stuff (like slavery) but things like food and water. The wilderness was scary, and for good reason.

So, now, thinking about our situation in the 21st century: where is Egypt, really? What are the tight spots in our own histories? Where have you felt stuck in a narrow place, with few choices and none of them easy? When and how (or were) you delivered?

At the seder, celebrate that deliverance. Or cry out for the deliverance that has not come.

Where are the tight spots in our hearts? Where are we narrow, confined in our thinking? What would it take to strike out into the unknown, to look for a more expansive way to think and feel? What would it take?

At the seder, start in Egypt. Own the narrow places in our hearts. Join hands and hearts for the courage to step into what is uncomfortable.

Where are the tight spots at our table? To whom do we say, “You are Other” and unwelcome? Who is too scary, too different, too disturbing to include at our table?

At the seder, notice who is not at the table. Who is too scary? Too different? Too disruptive? Ask, how could we make our table a little broader? How can this table leave Mitzrayim?

Passover is the time to leave Mitzrayim, not only in the past, but always, every year. Each year has a different story and different Egypts. Each year we strive to leave them, and sometimes we actually make it.

Our seders close with the famous words, “Next Year in Jerusalem.” Those words can be literal: next year, we will celebrate in Jerusalem. Or they can be metaphorical: Next year, we will be in a different place. We will live in a city on a hill, a bright light to the lands beyond. We will be different people, because we have been through the wilderness.

So we have a choice: Change, or stay the same. Be free, or be slaves. It’s up to us.

I wish us all a Pesach of sweetness and challenge!

 

 

What is Bedikat Chametz?

Image: Compost Recycling Can, by Alexas Fotos. Pixabay.com

The night before Passover, there’s a traditional Jewish ceremony called Bedikat Chametz.

Bedikat Chametz means “checking of chametz” and it has to do with making a last check for all the chametz in the house. That’s the stuff we’ve been cleaning out for the last month – all the products of the five forbidden-for-Passover grains: wheat, barley, oats, spelt, and rye. By the last night, there shouldn’t be any left, but the traditional thing is to save a bit back so that you can “find” it and destroy it. I have a half-package of fettuccini pasta waiting for bedikat chametz at my house. Now I’m waiting for sundown – traditionally, 40 minutes after sundown on the evening before Passover is the proper time for it.

Traditionally, you take it outside and burn it. I live in fire country in California, and even in the springtime, my neighbors would rightly call the fire department if I started a fire outside. So I put the last chametz in the compost can, which technically isn’t mine – it belongs to the city. I thereby move it off my property, outside my domain.

(An alternative: My friend and teacher Rabbi Stephen Einstein reminded me that for families with children, bedikat chametz can make an enduring Passover memory. If you have children, consider making the hunt for chametz a hunt for hidden chametz (pieces of bread, perhaps) through the house) then either burn them up or deal with their removal as safety demands. Some families even offer a finders prizes for chametz.)

Then I say the prayer for nullification of chametz:

All leaven and anything leavened that is in my possession, whether I have seen it or not, whether I have observed it or not, whether I have removed it or not, shall be considered nullified and ownerless as the dust of the earth.

And once I’ve done that, any chametz left in my house is inedible trash.

We’re almost there: Countdown to Pesach!

 

 

To Christian Friends Coming to Seder

Image: A Seder at Mark and Dawn’s house. Photo by Linda Burnett.

Dear Friends,

I’m so glad that you will be joining us for seder this Passover. The seder is a core experience of Jewish life and hospitality. We’re glad to have you.

After a few experiences with guests at the seder table, I’ve learned that it helps if you get a little orientation ahead of time. So, some history:

The seder goes back to the time just after the destruction of the Temple in Jerusalem in the year 70 of the common era (which you perhaps call “70 AD.”) Our people were distraught at the loss of our Temple, at the violence of the Roman armies, and we looked desperately for a way to make sure that the central story of our heritage, our deliverance from Egypt, would be handed down intact.

You see, up until that time it was our custom to travel to Jerusalem for the festival every year. It is one of three such “pilgrimage festivals” in Judaism. Families would travel long distances to camp in the valleys and hills around Jerusalem. On the last day before the festival, the head of each household would carry a lamb or goat down to the Temple, where the priests would slaughter it ritually and begin the process of roasting it before they handed the roast back to the householder. Then he (usually he) would return to the family and they would finish roasting the meat, munching on unleavened bread (matzah) and bitter herbs as was commanded in the Torah. While all this went on, there was storytelling by the elders and children, telling the story of our deliverance from Egypt. That’s how Passover was celebrated while the Temple still stood.

After the Temple was destroyed, we could no longer have the animal sacrifices, because we can only make those sacrifices in the Temple. Our elders made the decision to use the most powerful teaching practice of the time to transmit our story. That practice was the symposium banquet, a Greek custom at which wealthy free men reclined around a table, enjoying food and wine and discussing important issues. So from that time to this, we recline around the table, using the Haggadah, a script, to discuss our story at a level that everyone at the table can enjoy, linking our story to music and the tastes and odors of delicious food.

That’s what the Passover Seder is: a sacred moment in which we pass on the heritage of our people, experiencing it anew every year. The seder has served us well, seeing us through centuries of persecution and exile. It differs from the symposium in that we make the declaration “Let all who are hungry come and eat:” the learning offered at the seder is for anyone who is hungry for it, not only the privileged. Men, women and children participate at the seder table.

You may have heard from someone about links to your own Christian story. It’s true: Passover (Pesach) is mentioned in your New Testament. The gospels say that the events leading up to Easter took place during the Passover pilgrimage to Jerusalem. However, it is not true that the “Last Supper” was a Passover seder. Think about it: the Temple was still standing in the year 33; it would be standing for 37 more years. Jesus never went to a Passover seder, although as an observant Jew, he certainly took part in the Passover observances of his time: the sacrifices, the storytelling, and the unleavened bread.

So here’s what I ask: when you come to sit at my seder table, be there for a Jewish experience. I’m inviting you into my world on one of the holiest nights of its year. Just as I would not come into your church for Christmas services and tell everyone about all the Jewish content in the service, don’t come to a seder table to teach about Jesus. We both know that there are connections, and if you feel powerfully about that, press your minister or priest for interfaith dialogue events. There are many days of the year when those would be appropriate. Christmas, Easter, Rosh HaShanah and Passover are not those days; they are days when each community has its own important work to do.

I’m glad you are coming to my seder table, and I hope that you have a wonderful evening with us. Pesach sameach! (PAY-sokh sah-MAY-ahkh) – Happy Passover!

L’shalom,

Rabbi Ruth Adar

P.S. – For more advice about getting the most out of your first seder read Seven Ways to be a Great Passover Guest.

Passover is Friday Night and I Am Not Quite Ready

image

My Passover preparations have been a bit more complicated this year. I’ve been sick and I will lead the community seder at Temple Sinai on the second night of Pesach, so I have to “go easy” the first night to save my energy. On the plus side, in the last year I began using a cleaning service, so I have been able to delegate some of the more strenuous parts of Passover prep.

Every year is different. Every year Egypt looks a little different. This year, Egypt is pain and debilitation and the frustration that goes with that. Salvation, I suspect, will come in a clever mix of creative solutions and inner acceptance – and in the seders themselves, which teach me something new every year.

I’m actually ahead of myself with prep. I have enough bran cereal for tomorrow morning, then it’s gone. I gave away most of the packaged chametz already – I have one bag of blueberry muffin mix and assorted small things to go into the Food Bank bin Wednesday evening. I have one more meal’s worth of pasta. Everything else is eaten, given away, or thrown out. The fridge is clean. The kitchen will get its final cleaning Friday morning. The house is chametzless, with the exception of my bedroom (I had to eat a couple of meals in bed) but Thursday morning we’re going to finish that.

Shopping’s done. I’m not cooking for seder this year, but it’s important to make sure that I’ve got plenty of good kosher for Passover food on hand – so I’ve got extra eggs and potatoes and I ordered some extra fresh things from the organic box service. First night Linda and I will have a Movie Seder, to conserve my energy.

I’m going out to dinner with a friend tonight, and I’m looking forward to it with extra fervor, because during Passover I won’t eat out at all.

If you are feeling overwhelmed, please take a look at Passover Prep for Beginners. The essential thing is to get to a seder. Everything else can be a learning process.

How are your preparations going?