The Heart of the Omer – Lev b’omer, 5773, Parashat Emor [Ruach Chayim, BCC April 26, 2013]


By Rabbi Lisa Edwards

New Zealand
Rhode Island
What list am I compiling here?
Yep == the most recent countries and states to pass (or about to pass) marriage equality laws. Delaware, Minnesota and Illinois may soon be on board also. New Zealand and France did it three days apart — making them country 13 and country 14 to legalize marriage equality.

“After 136 hours and 46 minutes of debate” the vote was 331 to 225, reports a French media website

It also reports that the vote was followed by some unpleasant reactions from our opposition. Yes, it seems the acrimony over matrimony in France has been huge and well . . . acrid, and President Francois Hollande still has to sign it (though he says he will).

In New Zealand there was much more celebration and rejoicing. After the tally — 77 votes to 44, reports say there were “loud shouts of jubilation from the floor and the gallery.”

Near the beginning of Passover, when we first began to count the omer — to count the days between Passover and the next Jewish holiday of Shavuot (which we’ll be celebrating here on Tuesday night May 14), we noticed the coincidence (or not) of the U.S. Supreme Court hearing the two marriage equality cases during Passover – the Jewish celebration of freedom. Since the decisions on those two cases are not expected until sometime in June, I suggested then that we extend our counting of the omer – our counting of the days – beyond Shavuot, all the way until we hear from the Supreme Court.

Want to keep counting? according to a study for the Washington Post published earlier this month, in 2011 only fifteen U.S. Senators supported gay marriage. Today, fifty-one do.

In this week’s Torah portion, Emor, we receive the instruction to count the days of the omer: you shall count off seven weeks. They must be complete: you must count until the day after the seventh week — fifty days [Lev. 23:15-16] (That 50th night will be the evening Shavuot begins — Shavuot, by the way, means “weeks,” though on it we celebrate the giving of the Law (the ten commandments) and God’s revelation to the Israelites at Sinai (as told in the Book of Exodus).

Why do you suppose God wants us to count the days so carefully? What happens when we count? [Various people offered suggestions: builds drama, makes time pass more quickly, makes it more important, heightens “anticipation”…]

There are two days during the counting of the omer that have taken on special meanings, one begins tonight, the other tomorrow night — they are the 32nd and the 33rd days of the omer.

DrashRabbiLisa-1The 33rd day is more familiarly known as Lag b’omer — its name derives from how the number 33 is written in Hebrew — with the letters lamed gimmel — pronounced “lag.” There are many legends of why this day become important –and why still today in Israel and in some other Jewish communities – the day is celebrated with bonfires and picnics and archery contests — come here tomorrow night and you’ll find us singing and eating around a bonfire in the parking lot!! It’ll be fun — come!In some Jewish communities Lag b’omer is the end of a period of mourning — they don’t allow weddings or other celebrating during the first weeks of the omer counting and so for some Jews the 33rd day — lag b’omer then becomes a popular wedding day (also a day for haircuts too — any hair cutters here willing to give free haircuts tomorrow night in the parking lot? Or rabbis, cantors, judges willing to marry people tomorrow night?!!!).

The traditions (and reasons for them) vary a lot for lag b’omer, and that fact alone issues an invitation to us to follow that very Jewish tradition of creating holy days and ways to commemorate things that are important to us.

Tonight begins the other significantly numbered day of the omer — Tonight we will count lamed beit of the omer — someone pronounce lamed beit as a word —

Lev — meaning —- ? “heart”

In 1998 some of our friends (Rabbi Rafael Goldstein and Norman Sandfield, a member of our sibling congregation in Chicago Or Chadash) declared the 32nd day of the omer as LEV b’omer — the heart of the omer, a time to remember those affected by AIDS. The original announcement (in 1998) of this special day said: “A Jewish AIDS Memorial Day touches directly the hearts and minds of all of us who have loved and lost people to AIDS, and will, we hope, touch the hearts of the people who have tended to ignore this unending epidemic.”

Over the years, lev b’omer — the heart of the omer — has begun to take on added meanings as well. A charge to all of us who work for justice, who long for justice, to pour our hearts into our efforts.

Maybe the counting — whether of days or of friends lost; or of states or nations or politicians or Supreme Court justices who are stepping up to call for justice — maybe the counting is meant to remind us of the long slow road that justice often takes.

On Shavuot, by the way, the holiday that celebrates God’s giving of the Torah (the ten commandmants and all the laws by which we learn to live in community) we’ll be looking at some of the ways laws change as meanings change, and how those changes change lives. DOMA will be one of the laws we’ll be considering that night. And we’ll take it up again on June 2, at BCC’s annual Awards Brunch, as we proudly present our Herman Humanitarian Award to David Codell, one of the behind the scenes architects/attorneys of the campaign to bring an end to DOMA.

Just a couple of weeks before the Supreme Court heard the DOMA case last month, Former President Bill Clinton wrote an Op Ed piece in the Washington Post (March 7, 2013) asking the Court to overturn this ACT that he himself had signed into law in 1996.
His article ended with these words: “Americans have been at this sort of a crossroads often enough to recognize the right path. We understand that, while our laws may at times lag behind our best natures, in the end they catch up to our core values. One hundred fifty years ago, in the midst of the Civil War, President Abraham Lincoln concluded a message to Congress by posing the very question we face today: “It is not ‘Can any of us imagine better?’ but ‘Can we all do better?’”

Clinton continues, “The answer is of course and always, “yes.” In that spirit, I join with the Obama administration, the petitioner Edith Windsor, and the many other dedicated men and women who have engaged in this struggle for decades in urging the Supreme Court to overturn the Defense of Marriage Act.”

Tonight as we count Lamed Bet — Lev b’omer –as we count ourselves into the heart of the omer — let us also count ourselves blessed to be living in a community of people whose hearts and lives lean toward justice. Let us continue to count our blessings as we strive to make each day count.

Shabbat shalom. Will you stand for the counting of the omer?

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