By Rabbi Sara Rich
Seven weeks. We have been following social distancing regulations for seven weeks. The period of counting that we are in right now as we mark the days of self-isolation coincides with another period of counting. The Omer (OH-mair) marks the seven-week period between the beginning of the wheat harvest at Passover until Shavuot, when the offering is given to God. We are commanded in the book of Leviticus that after Passover, “You shall count off seven weeks. They must be complete: you must count until the day after the seventh week – fifty days; then you shall bring an offering of new grain to the Eternal” (Lev. 23:15-16). Although we are no longer making offerings of wheat, we still observe the mitzvah of counting the Omer by reciting a blessing and declaring the count of the day. Last night we counted “Today is 22 days, which is three weeks and one day of the Omer” and tonight we will add one to that number.
These days, we are also counting the “Home-er,” that is, the period of days spent self-isolated at home. I am struck by the contrast between counting the Omer and counting the Home-er. When counting the Omer, we know that after 49 days, the period will end. We have the holiday of Shavuot to celebrate immediately after. We feel a sense of progress as we count, knowing both how far we have come and how many days remain. In our case of self-isolation, we have reached the seven-week mark, and we count on. We do not know how many more days we will be counting, nor do we know what our daily lives will look like in the days, weeks, and even months to come.
Although we know this too will pass (gam zeh ya’avor) it is understandable to feel trapped by the uncertainty, grief, fear, and frustrations that we are currently experiencing. We can mitigate these feelings by seeking meaningful ways to spend our time. We can nurture our spirits, practice creativity, and make a difference for other people. I want to share two ways that I am using the Home-er period for this purpose:
Project 49: Corresponding to the 49 days of the Omer, my goal is to study Jewish text, thought, ideas, etc. with 49 people! I hope you will consider joining me for a 30-minute learning session on the topic of your choosing. Feel free to invite a friend or family member to join us. You can sign up here: http://calend.ly/rabbisara
Prayers for a Time of Separation and Loss: Working with a friend and colleague, Rabbi Ilene Haigh, we wrote two pieces of liturgy that we hope can provide comfort during this time when physical distancing is so pronounced. The first is a T’filat HaDerech/Prayer for an Uncharted Journey to recite when separated from a loved one in need of care. The second is Seder P’reidah – A Ritual for Saying Farewell from Afar, for a loved one who is dying when you cannot be with them in person. Writing liturgy is a creative endeavor that I did more frequently when I was a rabbinical student, pre-family and pre-Hillel. Spending time trying to find the words to express and to sanctify these intense emotions offered me a sense of purpose and helped me to process the current moment. You can find these pieces here, though I pray you will not need them.
In what ways have you already found meaning in these days? What can you do to help sustain yourself and your loved ones as we wait to see how high our count will reach? Opportunities for community service, outreach, learning and creativity abound. As we continue to count the Omer and the Home-er, may we find ourselves ascending and increasing in holiness. Shabbat Shalom.
Rabbi Sara Rich is the Executive Director at Hillel of Buffalo