A sheaf of barley, a sheaf of wheat.

What is so important that we measure the days, 49 of them, between our sheaf of barley and our sheaf of wheat. At first blush it seems a terribly insignificant counting exercise.  And yet there are meanings layered upon meanings, each with a significance that can open the heart and mind and soul.

The first meaning of this counting time between Pesah and Shavuot has to do with harvests and farming.  Most of us are so removed from that world of sun and soil as to feel it quite literally ‘other-worldly,’ it is another world.  We may have gardened, planting flowers and maybe some tomatoes, but that is children playing in the sand compared with those people who walked acres of land spreading seed and watering and caring for the hope, the dream of spring, the need, the basic need for sustenance.  When I was a child, I helped my mother plant cherry tomatoes and felt like a farmer, until I saw the farms that were not so far from our home.  Farms with rows of corn that spread over many acres dwarfed our little home garden with its little row of cherry tomatoes.  When we ate of our small bounty, the taste was that of accomplishment and pride.  And yet every week we went to the grocery store and bought the produce that I saw waving in the breeze down the street from our little home.  Counting the Omer (literally the sheaf) is a 49 day challenge of awareness of the wonder of existence.  A sheaf of barley, a sheaf of wheat, we count the days between harvests and count on the bounty so often taken for granted.

Not this year.

Not for me.

This year I shall count the bounty, a sheaf of barley, a sheaf of wheat.

This year I shall say the blessing each day and focus, if only a moment, on the awe of nature and the Holy source of nature.  Seeds fall and are watered from the sky.  The seeds die, giving birth to new life as the plants begin to struggle to reach for the sun.  Roots branch down in search of sustenance. Branches root into the heavens drinking in the light from the yellow orb around which we orbit.  And then, in time, if the conditions permit, plants blossom.  They blossom life and bestow life, preserve life and provide life.  The fruit of the labor of the plant grow in glory. And we pick and preserve and provide for our life through that fruit.  The seeds we discard or guard and plant and recycle the cycle, the spiral of life.  A sheaf of barley, a sheaf of wheat, we count the days between harvests and count on the bounty so often taken for granted.

Not this year.

Not for me.

This year I This year I shall count the bounty, a sheaf of barley, a sheaf of wheat.

This year I shall take 49 days to open my eyes, to awaken my awareness that there is a process that does not begin with super markets and end with my dinner table.  There is a process of life and that life has a process and a purpose, a future and a past.

A people bent under years of slavery and horror, who endured persecution with perseverance found release but not redemption, liberty without liberation.  And they counted, for 49 days until appeared before them, a mountain in a desert.  They counted 49 days until liberation and redemption were proffered from the heights of a mountain in a desert of shock and awe.  And we eat our fill and work our jobs and are absent from or absent-mindedly in attendance at the festivals of our people.

Not this year.

Not for me.

This year I shall count the blessings, a sheaf of barley, a sheaf of wheat.

I will count, this year and be counted as present.  Pesah with its celebration Seder, its meal of release, its call to liberty receives a fanfare and justly so.  It is one of the pivotal moments in Jewish History.  We escaped annihilation.  We escaped the whip.  But we were not free; we were simply runaway slaves, on the lamb with a Paschal ram.  Not until Shavuot, not until we stood at that mountain did we become truly free. Freedom is not, as the singer wrote; “having nothing left to lose!”  Freedom requires responsibility. We discarded the yoke in order to don the mantle. No longer would be build the store cities of Pitom and Ramses, the storehouses of barley and wheat. At Sinai we pledged to build the sacred storehouse of holiness and wholeness.  But that was a long time ago in the hoary history of our people, hidden in the misty myths of Torah talk.  And we take for granted the food of freedom, forgetting to plant and cultivate and water and care for the seeds of the soul, forgetting that we must feed our future with the symbolic repast of the past.

Not this year.

Not for me.

This year I shall count the blessings, a sheaf of barley, and a sheaf of wheat.

I shall eat whole heartedly, soulfully at the Seder and then I shall count.  The Omer is more than a sheaf of barley, more than a time of counting and waiting for the wheat.  It is the time after the liberty sheaf of Pesah.  The Omer is the counting of hope for the true freedom that Shavuot represents.  The Omer is our preparation for the sheaf of Shavuot.    On Pesah we rid ourselves of the thickness, the Hametz of apathy and ignorance, antipathy and anger.  On Shavuot we receive our mantle, the challenge of the nobility of the soul.  And during those 49 days between, we prepare the soil of the soul for the Sinai harvest.  It is 49 days of blessings brought and awareness sought.  On Pesah, we discarded the yoke of slavery and the slavish devotion to the mundane, the mean and meaningless, the surface and superficial that can crowd our lives.   For 49 days we prepare to don the mantle of the meaningful, of the momentous.  For Shavuot challenges us, reminds us that we are here to make a difference and that is the purpose and the preparation of the counting of the Omer.  But today our lives are busy and full and we forget to count and to bless and to feel the awe that is the light hidden in the Klipot of daily life.

Not this year.

Not for me.

This year I shall make the moment count, a sheaf of barley, a sheaf of wheat.

This year I shall lovingly prepare the soil of my soul. I shall count and seek and bless.  There are 49 days to the counting of the Omer.  Our sages taught that the seven weeks of counting parallel the seven lower Sefirot of emanation and creation and formation and action. Each week is a declension of one of the Sefirot.  For 49 days we focus on the details of the seven Sefirot the aspects of each within the other.  We begin on week one with compassion followed by power and discipline during the second week.  On week three we move to blending the beauty of the first two.  Week four is about joyous action followed by the meditative power of being on week five. On the sixth week we seek our source, our balance and on the seventh week we clear the decks for action in the world in which we live our day to day lives.

And during each week we jiggle the different combinations which are the keys to unlock the mystery. The first week is Hesed, meaning compassion.  Day one is Hesed of Hesed, the super compassion conductor.  Day two is Gevurah of Hesed, the super collider of power/discipline and compassion.  Day three is Tiferet of Hesed and so on for the week.  The next week is the week of Gevurah, meaning power/discipline and we repeat the process.  And so it goes for 49 days.   These are 49 mystical focal points that can change the world soul by soul.  Each key unlocks a passageway deep into the soul and far beyond our universe.  And yet we have forgotten the magic, the mystery, and so it passes us by, just another opportunity lost, new worlds lost, new understandings lost, paradise lost.

But not this year.

Not for me.

This year I shall consciously count:

A sheaf of barley a sheaf of wheat

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