Weekly Shabbat Messages

Every week, Jody Hirsh, the JCC's Judaic Education Director, provides a Judaic message that is featured at the top of the JCC's weekly email newsletter. Below is the Shabbat message for Friday, April 25, 2014. Click here for archived Shabbat Messages 

Shabbat and the Counting of the Omer

Years ago, I got an odd telephone call from the secretary of one of our local churches. (If someone calls the JCC with a call about Judaism, the caller is usually referred to me.) “My Pastor asked me to call,” she told me, “Where do you purchase sheaves?”

“Sheaves?” I answered.

“Yes... Sheaves,” she said. “You know – for the waving of the sheaves. My pastor said you would know.” 

She was referring of course to the description of “the waving of the sheaves” in Leviticus, - a Temple practice from before the destruction of the Temple by the Romans in 70 CE.  This would have been familiar to the Jesus who was, of course, Jewish and which they wanted to reenact in church:

And from the day on which you bring the sheaf of the waving – the day after the Sabbath – you shall count off seven weeks.Leviticus 23:15

I had to explain to her that we don’t really wave sheaves any more. We “wave the sheaves” symbolically by simply counting off the days from the second day of Passover – seven weeks, 49 times – until the holiday of Shavuot (weeks) 50 days later. That’s why this second holiday is called “The Feast of Weeks.” We call this symbolic countdown “the counting of the Omer” (Omer = sheaf... but it’s also a measure of grain). I have no idea where one could get actual sheaves at Passover time.

However... if you read the Leviticus quote closely, it’s still a little confusing. It seems to say that you have to start the counting on the Sunday (or rather Saturday night - the Day after the Shabbat) immediately following Passover. Therefore, Shavuot would always be on a Sunday! Shavuot this year, however, will be on June 4... a Wednesday (Erev Shavuot on Tuesday Night, not Saturday night). ???????????

The answer is... the Rabbis felt that in this case, “Shabbat” didn’t mean Friday night it meant “Day of Rest” which was the day immediately after the first night of Passover itself – this year on a Tuesday night. That’s why we begin counting the Omer at the second Seder.

The Karaites – that group that broke away from Judaism in the 8th Century felt differently.  Claiming that the Torah must be understood literally, they agreed that we should always start counting the omer on a Saturday night, and Shavuot will always be on a Saturday night/Sunday day.

So... if you’re a Karaite (and you know who you are… although I don’t think there are any in Milwaukee), this Friday night (Shabbat) will be eighth day of the Omer. For the rest of us, however, this Friday night will be the 12th night of the Omer.

Shabbat Shalom.



Past Shabbat Messages

Shabbat & Secret Jews - Friday, April 26, 2013

Out of the Land of Heaven - Friday, May 3, 2013

Almost Shavuot - Friday, May 10, 2013

Cakes on Shabbat - Friday, May 17, 2013

Dressing Up for Shabbat (Part I) - Friday, May 24, 2013

Dressing Up for Shabbat (Part II) - Friday, May 31, 2013

Solomon's Temple and the Shabbat - Friday, June 7, 2013

Shabbat Starts When? - Friday, June 14, 2013

Making Commandments Beautiful: Part I - Friday, June 21, 2013

Making Commandments Beautiful: Part 2 - Friday, June 28, 2013

Making Commandments Beautiful: Part 3 - Friday, July 5, 2013

Crypto Jews and the Shabbat - Friday, July 12, 2013

Shabbat Nachamu... The Sabbath of Consolation - Friday, July 19, 2013

Bialik and Kabbalat Shabbat - Friday, July 26, 2013

Angels and Shabbat - Friday, August 2, 2013

Shabbat in the Land of the Midnight Sun - Friday, August 9, 2013

Shabbat in Jerusalem As Told By Jody-  Friday, August 16, 2013

Shabbat in Jerusalem II As Told By Jody - Friday, August 23, 2013

The Streets of Jerusalem - Friday, August 30, 2013

The Final Heat – Closing in on Rosh Hashanah and Shabbat - Wednesday, September 4, 2013

Shabbat and Yom Kippur - Friday, September 13, 2013

Species, Species and More Species - Wednesday, September 18, 2013

Shabbat Breishit - Wednesday, September 25, 2013

Evening & Morning - Friday, October 4, 2013

Singing and the Sabbath - Friday, October 11, 2013

The Rainy Season - Friday, October 18, 2013

The Triennial Torah Cycle - Friday, October 25, 2013

The Sabbath and the Temple - Friday, November 1, 2013

It Is All In the Timing - Friday, November 8, 2013

Challah - Friday, November 15, 2013

Why is the Challah Braided? - Friday, November 22, 2013

Shabbat, Thanksgivukkah and Beyond - Friday, November 29, 2013

Carrying on Shabbat - Friday, December 6, 2013

Eruv Art - Friday, December 13, 2013

Celebrating the Sabbath in Darkness - Friday, December 20, 2013

Celebrating the Sabbath in Darkness Continued - Friday, December 27, 2013

The First Shabbat of the Year - Friday, January 3, 2014

Shabbat Shirah - Friday, January 10, 2014

Shabbat and Trees - Friday, January 17, 2014

Strangers in our Midst - Friday, January 24, 2014

The Ten Commandments, Part I - Friday, January 31, 2014

The Ten Commandments, Part II - Friday, February 7, 2014

Shabbat, Babylonians, Tacitus, and the Communists - Friday, February 14, 2014

The Shabbat Umbrella - Friday, February 21, 2014

Lighting Shabbat Candles - Friday, February 28, 2014

Philip Roth and Shabbat - Friday, March 7, 2014

Shabbat Zachor - Friday, March 14, 2014

Shabbat in Amsterdam - Friday, March 21, 2014

Ahad Ha’am and the Shabbat - Friday, March 28, 2014

Shabbat at the JCCA Biennial - Friday, April 4, 2014

Shabbat HaGadol – The Great Sabbath - Friday, April 11, 2014

Challah on the Shabbat During Passover? - Friday, April 18, 2014

Shabbat and the Counting of the Omer - Friday, April 25, 2014