Shavuot and Lag Be'Omer

What is meaning of Shavuot and the Counting of the Omer?

Shavuot is called the Festival of Weeks, or Pentecost in the Christian calendar. It is fifty days (7 weeks and 1 day) starting after the Passover. It is the 49 day period of preparation and anticipation, starting from the exodus from Egypt until the fiftieth day when Moses ascended Mount Sinai and was given the Torah and the Ten Commandments by God (See also hyperlink 5, 50, 500 and hyperlink Behar Leviticus 25:1-26:2).

Similarly the crossing of the Red Sea {1} is likened to the process of being born again {2}. The passage through the Red Sea was like a passage through the Uterus and when the walls of the sea turned back on itself to cover the Egyptians it was as if the umbilical cord had be cut and the Israelites had been born into a new world on the other side. The womb of Egypt had provided food, nourishment and shelter that allowed the Children of Israel to be ‘fruitful and multiply’ and grow from 70 souls to 600,000 souls (See hyperlink be fruitful and multiply). When the sea turned in on itself there was no turning back, the Israelites were cast into a new world.

The significance of the 50 is noted in the verse:

And the people of Israel journeyed from Rameses to Succoth, about six hundred thousand on foot, who were men, beside children: Exodus 12:37

The word Rameses spelt רעמסס resh-ayin-mem-samech-samech = 200+70+40+60+60 has a value of 430 and Succoth סוכות spelt samech-mem-caph-taf = 60+40+20+400 has a value of 480. The difference between the two is 50.

The 430 were the number of years of servitude:

Now the sojourning of the people of Israel, who dwelt in Egypt, was four hundred and thirty years: And it came to pass at the end of the four hundred and thirty years, even on that very day it came to pass, that all the hosts of the Lord went out from the land of Egypt: Exodus 12:40-41

It is also the numerical value of the word Nefesh, נפש or bodily soul, spelt nun-peh-shin = 50 + 80 + 300 = 430 which were to be transferred out of Egypt. The value 480 is the 480 years after the Exodus when the Solomon began to build God’s temple in Jerusalem. (See Kings I:6.1 and hyperlink Miriam the Prophetess and the drum)

And it came to pass in the four hundred and eightieth year after the people of Israel came out of the land of Egypt, in the fourth year of Solomon's reign over Israel, in the month Ziv, which is the second month, that he began to build the house of the Lord: Kings I: 6:1

So travelling from Rameses to Succoth, the crossing of the Red Sea and the dance of Miriam with the drum brings us toward this tremendous event of the ‘Giving of the Torah’ and its subsequent the building of the Temple, the Heaven on Earth and Sanctuary where the Torah was to be held four hundred and eighty years later.

Counting of the Omer

It is for this reason that we are given the commandment to ‘Count the Omer’ in remembrance, in preparation and in anticipation of the historical and spiritual event of giving the Torah. ‘Counting the Omer’, means we count each and every day from Passover to Shavuoth: the 1st day, 2nd day, 3rd day etc. until the fiftieth day when we celebrate Shavuot.

And you shall count from the next day after the sabbath, from the day that you brought the sheaf of the wave offering; seven sabbaths shall be complete: To the next day after the seventh sabbath shall you count fifty days; and you shall offer a new meal offering to the Lord: Leviticus 23:15-16

This concept of counting 7 Sabbaths + 1 day can be extrapolated further: Just as 7+1 =8 so 7 x 7 +1 = 50. Hence the ‘8’ the number for renewal, heaven and the covenant with God is linked to the ‘50’ the counting of the Omer and the Yuvel, the Jubilee Year (See hyperlink Behar Leviticus 25:1-26:2; hyperlink 5, 50 500 and hyperlink 8,800).

The actual meaning of the Omer is the quantity of barley that is offered to the temple each day during this period. The period is associated with the wheat harvest in Israel. Hence the 50 days of the Omer is the period during which wheat is harvested, threshed, winnowed, ground into flour, sifted, kneaded into dough and finally baked into loaves of bread which are offered to God.

To the next day after the seventh sabbath shall you count fifty days; and you shall offer a new meal offering to the Lord: You shall bring out of your habitations two wave loaves of two tenth deals; they shall be of fine flour; they shall be baked with leaven; they are the first fruits to the Lord: Leviticus 23:16-17

The wheat is cut off from the Earth; cut off from its source of nourishment: it is cut off from the phenomenal world and the 49th day is the final day of this process of rebirth until the fiftieth day when the first fruits are brought to God. So it is the counting of the Omer has the same meaning: counting to the beginning of a new cycle, the counting of the beginning of a new birth.

This concept is also found in Tibetan theology {3}. For when a person dies the soul spends 49 days in Bardo (a state between one life and the next) and is reborn on the 50th day.

It is for this meaning that the Book of Ruth is read during the Festival of Shavuot. The story described in the Book of Ruth takes place at the time of the wheat harvest. It is the story of Ruth, a Moabite and non-Jew, who marries Boaz, a descendant of Perez (an illegitimate son of Judah). Ruth and Boaz are the great grandparents of King David and hence the lineage of the Messiah.

The significance of the Book of Ruth in the Festival of Shavuot is that the festival is not only about the ‘Giving of the Torah’ and the building of the Temple, but also the coming of the Messiah.

Lag Be’Omer: The two-third journey

During the counting of the Omer traditionally it is a period of sobriety and there is no rejoicing until the 33rd day of the Omer. It is called Lag b’Omer because lag spelt לג lamed-gimmel = 30+3= 33.

According to the Talmud, the reason for the semi-mourning period during the counting of the Omer is because during the time of Rabbi Akiva (1st Century CE) 24,000 of his students died from a plague during the counting of the Omer. The 33rd day, Lag Be’Omer, is said to have been the end of the plague. A second reason given for celebration on Lag Be Omer is the death of Rabbi Shimon bar Yochai who, under the threat of persecution, hid from the Romans in a cave near Mount Meron in Northern Israel and who purportedly authored the Zohar. It is said his teachings such a great light that traditionally Lag Be’ Omer is celebrated with bonfires.

Is this really the reason for celebration of Lag Be’Omer?

As described above, the 50 days of the Omer is the number of days from the beginning of a cycle until its completion on the 49th day and new birth and renewal on the 50th day which is the festival of Shavuot (See hyperlink 5, 50, 500). It is the journey from Rameses to Succoth (Exodus 12:37).

So what is significant about the 33rd day? The 33rd day is the landmark when we have reached ²/3 of the journey (i.e. ³³/50= ²/3).

The ratio of 2/3 and 1/3 is reflected in various instances in Biblical texts. Notably it is seen in the Children of Israel’s departure from the material world of Egypt and entry into the spiritual World of Unity in the land of Canaan. The ratio between the gematrical value of word for Egypt =Mitzraim (Hb) with a value of 380 and Canaan with a value of 190, is 2/3 and 1/3. (See hyperlink Bo for details). The 2/3 point of their journey is the juncture between leaving the material world and entering the spiritual world. The same is the reason for the celebration of Lag Be Omer – it is when the Children of Israel have reached the entry point of the 2/3 leg of their spiritual journey to receive the Torah.

Canaan, spelt: caf–nun-ayin-nun כנען = 20-50-70-50 = 190

Similarly Moses spent 80 years in the material world of Egypt before undertaking his mission to lead the Children of Israel out of Egypt into the Land of Canaan. He spent 40 years in the wilderness before he died at the age of 120 years at the edge of entry into the Promised Land. Hence ratio is these two periods is 2:1 or 2/3 and 1/3.

From the perspective of our own lives we should also devote the first 2/3 of our lives in material aspects of providing for ourselves and our family, but the latter 1/3, say beginning at the age of 60 we should consider devoting ourselves to more spiritual purposes.

A third example of the or 2/3 and 1/3 relationship is shown in Genesis 46:8-28 where the seventy souls of the Children of Israel that enter Egypt from the lineage of the womb of Leah and that of Rachel are in a ratio of 2:1. There were 49 souls born of Leah and 21 souls born of Rachel: The ratio of 21/70 and 49/70 is 3/10 and 7/10 respectively, i.e. ~ 1/3 and 2/3. The fruit of the womb of Rachel, the tribes of Manesseh, Ephraim and Benjamin, are the spiritual soul (neshama) of the Children of Israel; the other tribes are the bodily soul (nephesh).

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{1}The word for the Red Sea in Hebrew is ‘Yam Suf’ ים סוף meaning ‘Sea of Reeds’, but it the word ‘suf’ סוף also means infinity in Hebrew.

{2} It is interesting to note that both the Exodus from Egypt and the entry into the Promised Land required crossing a body of water: the Red Sea and the River Jordan. Each crossing is associated with the end of one period and the beginning of another.

{3} See Tibetan Book of the Dead composed by Padma Sambhava: revealed by Karma Lingpa; translated by Gyurme Dorje. London: Penguin Books ISBN 978-0-14-045529-8

 

 
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