The second day of Pesach begins the Counting of the Omer, the period between Passover and Shavuot, a 49 day period.
The period between these two holidays represents the journey between them - from the Exodus from Egypt (celebrated on Passover) to the Revelation at Sinai (celebrated on Shavuot). Receiving the Torah isn't something that can just be done at the drop of a hat, it takes preparation and work. The period of the Omer gives us that time to reflect and consider, to pay attention to each and every day, and to literally "count up" until the Torah comes into our lives.
It's also considered a period of semi-mourning. Traditional Jews won't cut their hair, shave, listen to live music, or celebrate weddings or other parties. The 33rd day of the Omer (Lag B'Omer) has some lifting of these restrictions. Tradition says that a plague killed 24,000 students of Rabbi Akiva during this period, hence the mourning.
In case you want to count the Omer, feel free to come back here every day to Ima on and off the Bima. Over <------------------ there is the counter that my dad wrote for my blog (last year!) and it works really well! If there was a market for this kind of thing, I think he could make a good business with the J-bloggers. What do you think, Dad???
Okay, so how do we find contemporary and interesting meaning in the Omer? Just as we do with any of our holidays and observances, we have to find a way to make it relevant to how we live our lives. One tradition is to study various texts during this period as a way to improve oneself. Another way is to choose a story or other reading to meditate upon daily. Maybe this is the time to introduce a new practice - do you want to take up yoga or daily prayer? There's something wonderful and finite about making a 49-day commitment. And when the Omer ends, you can choose how to proceed from there. Revelation has an incredible life-changing-potential. But it won't happen if you don't welcome it in and prepare yourself in some way for it. We have the chance each and every day to open ourselves up...and Judaism gives us the structure and program to do it...
How will you observe the Omer this year?
May it bring enlightenment and personal nourishment...