Sunday, April 4, 2010

From Freedom to Redemption: Our Journey Towards Shavuot

There are many suggestions as to why we might count every day from Passover to Shavuot. Historical critics suggest that during the period of the Omer, our ancestors were completely focused on their agricultural endeavors. Offerings given during these weeks expressed hope for an abundant harvest, while simultaneously thanked God for the bounty of the land.
Shavuot, throughout the ages, has come to be associated with the revelation of Torah on Mount Sinai. When we left Egypt we were slaves, still clinging to our slave mentality. We were not a people until we received Torah and in unison proclaimed that we will hear and obey. The Medieval mystics see the Omer as a time for intense spiritual preparation. The 49 days of counting equal seven times seven. There happen to be seven lower sefirot, the emanations of God in Kabalistic thought. The ultimate goal in mystical practice is to elevate oneself through the seven sefirot until one has, in essence, become one with God’s fundamental nature. Each sefirah, in turn, has seven within itself. So the mystic wishing to attain spiritual enlightenment over this period would elevate one level within an emanation each day, and one full emanation each week, allowing for complete connectedness with God at the moment of revelation. Please don’t try this at home.
Today we mark the counting with blessing. After our blessing over counting the Omer, we declare which day of the Omer it is, and we mark how many weeks and days. For example, next Friday night after our blessing we will say, “Today is the 11th day of the Omer, which equals one week and 4 days.” Some Jews will even recite Psalm 67 after the counting every night--not because it is relevant to the Omer, but because it has 7 verses, and a total of 49 words.
However we mark the counting, we all count in our own way, and our counting prepares us for that pivotal moment at Mount Sinai. Some study Torah every day to prime their minds for the receiving of Torah. Some meditate every day to imagine what it will be like to have God revealed to us. Some of us technophiles are blogging or tweeting every day to share our counting with the electronic world.
Yesterday while listening to the radio I heard a story about a different kind of counting. The story was about the oldest daughter of one of our Temple Sinai families. She is not counting specifically for the Omer, but her counting started as the Omer was beginning. She will be counting to almost 500 over the next 3 weeks, not in sheaves of grain, but in miles. Lauren Book-Lim started walking yesterday. She started her walk at the Aventura Mall, and she will end on April 20th in Tallahassee. These two locations are of particular significance to Laruen. She was sexually abused at the Aventura Mall, and on April 20th she plans to lobby for legislation to help protect children from sexual abuse at a rally at our state’s capital. Her walk coincides with April’s designation as Sexual Abuse Awareness Month. Her journey will take her from the enslavement of abuse—the fear and confusion that comes from an authority figure so horribly breeching trust—to the freedom of having her voice heard.
Lauren was sexually abused by her live-in nanny for seven years, beginning when she was ten years old. Today she is studying for her Masters in Elementary Education and she runs an organization called Lauren’s Kids, a non-profit organization that strives to educate survivors about how to heal, and encourages victims of abuse that “it’s OK to tell.”
According to Lauren, her journey from Aventura to Tallahassee “is a physical manifestation of your spiritual and healing journey.” Lauren’s freedom from the chains of her abuse stems from her willingness to tell her parents what was happening to her at the hands of her nanny. She was able to free herself with help from friends and loved ones, and now seeks to do the same for others.
As we go on our symbolic journey from Passover to Shavuot, we pray that Lauren’s journey will meet all of its goals and more. Our redemption at Mount Sinai came in the form of our written Torah. We hope that her redemption for Lauren’s Kids and all victims of sexual abuse will come in the form of stronger victim care legislation and stricter laws to deal with abusers. We know that even though we were granted freedom for our oppressors, no Jewish person can feel truly free until all people are free. May our counting throughout our journey this Omer season bring us and all people to true freedom and redemption.

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