God's busy social calendar is outlined in this week's parashah: Shabbat, festivals and the counting of the Omer – His attendance is required at every moment. However, nestled among these holy days is a commandment that demands human intervention, to leave aside a corner of the field for the poor. While time is sanctified through the cycle of the festivals, place also becomes sanctified by its power to provide for others in need.
The 49 days that mark the counting of the Omer period between Pesach and Shavuot are closely linked to the agricultural cycle. The founder of the Biblical Landscape Reserve in Israel calls this period "the seven weeks of trepidation and prayer". He refers to the Talmud, which says: "The northern wind is beneficial to wheat when it has reached a third of its ripening, and is damaging to olive trees when they have blossomed. The southern wind is damaging to wheat when it has reached a third of its ripening and is beneficial to olives when they have blossomed." Sensitive to nature, the rabbis recognised the delicate balance of wind and rain that influenced the success of their crops and the people's ability to survive.
Fast-paced urban living has desensitised many of us to the land's natural rhythms and "counting the Omer" has been rebranded as a time of internal growth as preparation for the giving of the Torah on Shavuot. However, this week's parashah, poised between Yom Hashoah, commemorating the Holocaust, and Yom Ha'atzmaut, Israel's Independence Day, brings to mind another type of counting: the lives lost and the communities destroyed in those dark days of World War 2. But now we are thankfully counting lives rebuilt and future generations celebrating the festivals in the Land of Israel once again.