Shelter in Time

By Wendy Jackler

Quarantine Lag B'omer

How has sheltering in place changed how you view time? Jewish tradition teaches us to structure our time: the weekly break of Shabbat, the yearly cycle of holidays, and right now the Counting of the Omer.

Usually, we have a million things to do and very tight schedules. Now, plans are up in the air! Anything scheduled more than a week or two in the future has to be considered tentative. The countdown to the last day of school is very different when school is at home. Some of us working from home have trouble distinguishing between work time and home time. But we also don’t have to build in any drive time to our schedules. So that’s nice. Even birthdays, the way most of us mark the passage of time, are different than any other we’ve had in our lives. (Mine’s in October. I’m throwing a huge party. You’re all invited. Tentatively.)

From what I’ve seen, most people either lose track of the day and date, or are acutely aware of exactly how many days we’ve been in lockdown. I know it started a few weeks before Passover, but unless I actually look at a calendar, I have no idea how long ago that was. Ancient Jews, who weren’t tethered to their phone’s calendar app, marked the days of the spring harvest by counting the “Omer.”

The omer, a measurement of grain, refers to the offering Jews brought to the Great Temple in Jerusalem during the 49 days between the second day of Passover and the holiday of Shavuot. The Counting of the Omer represents the time the Israelites wandered in the desert after the exodus from Egypt until receiving the Torah. During the Temple period, Jews were required to offer an omer of barley each day of the 7 weeks before they were permitted to use any of the new harvest. The modern custom, for those who count the omer, is to recite an evening blessing which includes the day of the count. It is considered a time of contemplation and sorrow and some observe prohibitions that accompany mourning—no weddings, haircuts, festivities, etc. But unlike our current situation, during the counting of the omer, we know how many days are left.

Earlier this week was the minor festival of Lag B’Omer.  The name “Lag B’Omer” means 33rd  of the Omer – the Hebrew letters lamed and gimmel (of dreidel fame) represent the numbers 30 and 3. Originally it was a commemoration of several events in Jewish history— the end of a first-century plague, the death of second-century kabbalistic scholar Shimon bar Yochai and a military victory. Now the tradition is to hold outdoor parties, picnics, and bonfires. It is also a big day for weddings, since Lag B’Omer is a respite from rules that apply during the count. Couldn’t we all use a similar break right now? 

After all, we don’t know how long this will last. How can we look to Jewish tradition to inspire us as we navigate this time?

Wendy Jackler is the director of operations for Hebrew Helpers.

Want new articles before they get published
Subscribe to our Awesome Newsletter.