“She [Ruth] came and gleaned in the field behind the harvesters and her fate made her happen across land belonging to Boaz” Megillat Ruth 2:3


The counting of seven weeks, the Omer, from Passover to Shavuot is a period of focus on the harvest season. Megillat Ruth, the text associated with Shavuot, is replete with agricultural, and particularly harvest, themes.

The Omer itself was a grain offering symbolising the New Year for agricultural produce. This celebration of agricultural growth exists annually in tandem with another, metaphysical growth. These 49 days are representative of the spiritual journey on which the entire nation embarked following our exit from Egypt. We left slavery on the bottom-most spiritual level and had to ascend 49 levels to reach a spiritual peak worthy of receiving the Torah at Sinai. The Omer has thus come to be seen as a time for personal growth.

Despite this optimistic growth outlook, the Omer has also become a period of mourning. Any bride- and groom-to-be know the restrictions and plan accordingly, resulting in an anomalous surge in weddings after Shavuot. Tragically, it was during the Omer period that 24,000 students of the talmudic scholar Rabbi Akiva died of plague. These deaths were attributed to a lack of loving-kindness rooted in academic competition and reluctance to share their own Torah-learning.

Yet the joyous punctuation of the 33rd day marks the yahrzeit of Rabbi Shimon bar Yochai, Rabbi Akiva’s swan-song pupil. Where Rabbi Akiva’s first “crop” of students failed, this second generation of seed flourished and learned to give to others. We celebrate the 33rd day of the Omer to acknowledge this ultimate legacy of Torah growth, a poignant trajectory towards Shavuot when we celebrate receiving the Torah.

The Omer is a time to personally grow alongside the grains awaiting harvest. The 24,000 grew not like a crop at all, but like conifers, poisoning the soil around them to disallow competitive growth. Grains, however, grow in swathes and so too we must grow clustered together, making our individual inroads and personal refinements, but all in the frame of a bigger picture of community.

Shavuot has no set date per se. Rather, it is defined by its 50-day distance from Pesach that we are tasked to count. We may each individually count 49 sunsets, but importantly, we reach Shavuot on the same day, celebrating and sharing our Torah together.


Share via

Want more from the JC?

To continue reading, we just need a few details...

Want more from
the JC?

To continue reading, we just
need a few details...

Get the best news and views from across the Jewish world Get subscriber-only offers from our partners Subscribe to get access to our e-paper and archive