At the end of the second Seder, we start counting 49 days until Shavuot. This period of seven weeks is known as the Omer.
In ancient Israel society, this was the time when they would start the barley harvest and bring a meal prepared with the first grains to the Temple in Jerusalem.
At the end of this seven weeks, it was time to start the harvest of wheat, which is one of the events we celebrate in Shavuot.
Our rabbis teach that barley is used as food for animals, while wheat is for humans.
Barley used for animals is usually a raw material, representing the first step of the journey, leading up to Shavuot, when we celebrate receiving the Torah with bread made with refined wheat.
This process teaches us that Torah is an element of discernment, of understanding, and wisdom. We came out of Egypt raw, free but unrefined.
The first weeks of that journey were tough. The people complained to Moshe time and time again.
Upon receiving the Torah, we were able to recognize what we want rather than reacting to our natural instincts.
We learn moral standards and social ethics to guide us towards a meaningful life.
We traditionally count the Omer by reciting a short meditation that says: Hineni! I’m here and ready to fulfill the mitzvah of counting the Omer.
I would like to invite you to reflect on the first word of this introduction, Hineni.
When God called Avraham to ask him to sacrifice his son Itzhak, before knowing what journey he was about to start, he said: Hineni.
In a dream, God calls Yaacov and he answers, Hineni – right before he started his journey back to the land of his ancestors.
The same happened to the Prophet Shmuel, when God called him three times in a dream, and he always responded – Hineni. Shmuel was helped Eli, the priest, to understand that this was a divine call.
This is the time to start our own personal journey. Think about something that you want to work on daily, something that you want to be fully present, even if just for a couple of minutes, and dedicate that time to reflect on each step of the journey.
We will gather in Shavuot to receive the Torah again in a few weeks. Now we have an opportunity to prepare ourselves, to be ready, to create a journey that will make each one of us better, whole, refined as we meet with God at the top of the mountain once more.