Today is Yom HaAtzma’ut, Israel’s independence day. This day comes during the Omer period. Sefirat HaOmer (the counting of the Omer) is the period of 7 weeks between the second night of Pessah and the eve of Shavuot. I have explained previously that the omer was a measure of the first harvest of barley to be brought, in ancient times, to the Temple as an offering of gratitude. In an agricultural society, so dependent on the productivity of the land, counting and bringing the omer was a clear expression of understanding that a productive soil was the ultimate gift God could give the people. It was also an acknowledgement that prosperity is only possible when God’s blessings and people’s ingenuity coalesce. Traditionally, this is considered a period of mourning. According to the Talmud, twelve thousand students of Rabbi Akivah died of a plague in one year during this period. Nowadays, we refrain from cutting the hair, going to parties, and dancing during this time of the year. Another reason for the somber mood of the omer period relates to the agricultural aspect of both holidays. Pessah is the festival of spring, and Shavuot is a festival of harvest. This time was filled with uncertainty. How will the crops fare? Will we have enough food, enough sustenance, for the year to come? When so much is in the balance, people’s moods would definitely be somber. Yet, not all of us feel that this long mourning period has to be observed in its entirety. The Conservative Movement has ruled that after Yom Ha’atzmaut, Israel’s Independence Day, it is acceptable to resume all normal activities. After all, we have reason to rejoice as we celebrate the Land of Israel! And while spring can raise the fears of an agricultural society about the availability of food, it is also a time when our mood is naturally considerably uplifted. The temperatures (usually) rise a little bit; we enjoy the beauty of nature.
Mourning and joy are jumbled together at this time of the year. Yesterday I talked about the way that Israeli society deals with the happiness and sadness present in their lives. Our tradition also wants us to pay attention to the many feelings that we have at this time of our lives. We are happy as we celebrate Yom HaAtzmaut and enjoy the weather, balancing the euphoria with the reminders that there are still many things to be done. The world is still not a peaceful place, we are living through a pandemic and the uncertainty of what the future will bring. I think this combination is designed to push us into action. All of reality, together, has the power to make us appreciate the world and renew our partnership with God. We have to enjoy the good moments, drawing spiritual and emotional sustenance from them in order to do the work of making this world a better place.
Rabbi Lia Bass