Sunday, April 12, 2009

Mah Nishtanah Hashanah Hazot - Why is this year different from all other years?

Twenty-eight years ago, my fellow rabbinic students stood on the lawn of Hebrew Union College in Cincinnati and did the ritual of Birkat Hachamah - the Blessing of the Sun - a ritual Jews do every 28 years to mark the moment that, it is said, the sun is in the same position God placed it at creation. Twenty-eight years ago I did the ritual because it seemed unique, cool and the thing to do. This year I stood upon my deck as the sun rose reciting the blessing and surrounding readings with a different sense. This year I felt a sense of awe, appreciation and gratitude.

The difference? I knew that as soon as I completed the ceremony I was heading to the airport to fly to D.C. to have seder with friends and fly back the next morning. There I stood, living in freedom, able to stand outside and do a "strange" Jewish ceremony, then "jet set" to D.C. to celebrate Pesach our festival of freedom. Not only is it special to have the freedom to worship openly as a Jew or live in a time where technology enables me to travel hundreds of miles in an hour, but to be able to afford to travel to be with friends this year of all years is truly special a special gift.

I think that is why I not only did Birkat Hachamah with a deeper spirit but why I am counting the Omer for the first time ever. Counting the Omer always seemed to me to be an anachronism. First, we have calendars and do not need to pile up sheaves of wheat to remind us how many days are left before we celebrate Shavuot. Second, I've never grown wheat or lived anywhere I could grow winter wheat. Yet this year it I am finding a new sense of meaning in marking the passing of each day as we move toward celebrating the Revelation at Sinai.

Again, I believe counting the Omer for me is an expression of appreciation. While I have never subscribed to the thinking that in order to appreciate the good one needs to experience lack. However, it seems to me this year that focusing on our ancestors creating a way to mark time that uses one of their precious resources feels right. I also seem more conscious, more aware of the approach of Shavuot. I do not know what happened at Mount Sinai. I do not know if it even occurred. But the underlying sense of being in partnership with God and thanking God for allowing us to share in the bounty of the earth and find a path that leads us through our actions to a deeper sense of self and spirituality feels powerful this year.