This week we begin the Book of Bemidbar; (called the Book of Numbers in the non-Jewish world). It certainly is about counting and this year it is peculiarly apt. We are not just concluding the count for the Omer and anticipating Shavuot but also have the privilege of witnessing the Platinum Jubilee for the Queen.
Many amongst us will have memories of the Golden and Silver Jubilee celebrations and some of us may recall the coronation itself. It was a time of hope; it was to be the New Elizabethan era after the dark days of a world war. Looking around today it may seem to be a time of lost opportunities and a failure to learn from history.
Shavuot is not just a dairy festival with cheesecakes and buns, but it too is a symbol of hope. In Sephardic communities rather than cheesecake, special honeyed bread is baked, “el pan de siete cielos,”
The festival marks the completion of the seven week long count from Pesach; the celebration of the wheat harvest, "Chag HaKatzir,” the ripening of the first fruits,” Yom Habikurim” and the time of the giving of the Torah at Sinai. “Zeman Matan Torahteinu,” (however, this is not specifically mentioned in the text). Recalling the importance of the wheat harvest is especially relevant this year.
In Israel only one day is celebrated but here, in the Diaspora, we celebrate two days. We may spend the night in study “tikkun leyl Shavuot” and the service includes not just Yiskor but the Book of Ruth, a story of hope and faith following despair.
There is also the custom of reading a special poem, the, “Akdamut Milim”, as we begin the Torah reading. Written by Rabbi Meir of Worms (one of the teachers of Rashi), the poem conveys the spirit of love of G-d and Judaism even in adverse conditions. It envisages hope.
In times like these, with the world wheat harvest at risk and world stability under threat, continuing the principle of counting each other in is a valuable lesson.
During the full Shabbat morning service, we recite Psalm 90, attributed to Moses. We read
שׁוּבָ֣ה יְ֭הֹוָה עַד־מָתָ֑י וְ֝הִנָּחֵ֗ם עַל־עֲבָדֶֽיךָ
Teach us to count our days rightly that we may obtain a wise heart