Tuesday, April 27, 2010

Counting the omer with objects of the spirit

Omer and Objects of the Spirit -- for O Day at ABC Wednesday.

I saw this at the Jewish art museum at Hechal Shlomo in Jerusalem and was delighted to learn that it is a modern, artistic version of an omer calendar!
The acrylic on wood creation is called Saphyr, Sefirat haOmer counter [sefira means "counting" in Hebrew].
American artist Tobi Kahn made it in 2002.
Saphyr is a 7 x 7 sculptural grid with 49 pegs that mark the 49-day interval between the holidays of Passover and Shavuot, between the commemoration of the Exodus from Egypt and the giving of the Torah at Mount Sinai.
This 49-day period begins on the second day of Passover – when an omer , or measure of barley, was offered at the Temple in Jerusalem – and ends on the day the wheat harvest began. Symbolically, the time between the two holidays traces the path from physical freedom (the Exodus) to spiritual freedom attained by the acceptance of the Torah.
Special calendars are used to count off the seven weeks of the omer.
Since the destruction of the Temple in 70 CE, we can no longer bring the offering.
Instead, we now "count the omer" each night during this period by saying a blessing and enumerating the day.
The omer also became a time of semi-mourning during which many observant Jews refrain from cutting their hair, listening to music, or celebrating marriages.
After nightfall tonight, we will recite "Today is twenty-nine days, which is four weeks and one day of the omer." That means you can see many men in my village, who normally are clean-shaven, with quite a beard by now.
The mourning is normally associated with a 2nd century plague said to have decimated the "24,000" disciples of Rabbi Akiva who died "because they did not treat each other with respect."
It has been suggested (at the Jewish Museum in New York website) that "Each peg on Kahn's counter is unique, but they all fit together as a whole, their combined form suggesting the rooftops of a village. The dark color of the work reflects the mood of the omer period."
The interior of each of the compartments, designed to hold the sculpted counting pegs, is painted gold to symbolize the spiritual journey embodied in the interval between the two holidays of Passover and Shavuot.
Richard McBee, talking about "Reinventing Ritual at The Jewish Museum," offers this:

"The wooden pegs are sculpted in unique shapes, each a different miniature sculpture that in its own way represents the uniqueness of each day as we perform G-d's commandments. Here counting becomes a physical act, forcing us to feel the difference of each day and place it in the next slot. This very uniqueness comes together as we count. The counting of the Omer represents the relationship between a person and his or her community. Beginning with one, we become an ordered multitude. Kahn's message is direct: each day and each person counts."


VP said...

Has this anything to do with the bonfires and Lag b'omer?

Dina said...

VP, the holiday of Lag BaOmer is the 33rd day of the omer. The letter lamed = 30 and gimel = 3, so said together they are lag (= 33). That's the gematria.
It is the day the plague ended that was killing Rabbi Akiva's students.
It is a joyous day, one day only, within the 49 days of semi-mourning.
Because restrictions of mourning are lifted on this 33rd day of the omer, religious Jews use it for weddings, parties, listening to music, picnics, and haircuts.
This year Lag BaOmer will be on Saturday night and Sunday.
Kids are already starting to collect wood for the huge bonfires that will be all over the country on Saturday night.

Anonymous said...

I seem to learn a lot when I visit. I wish you were around in the 1970s and computers and the Internet. For back then I was deep into religions of the world and getting answers or sending questions was often delayed by weeks assuming people answered on time.

Cloudia said...

You explained this to me for the first time!

and, yes, bless our ANZAC friends

Aloha from Waikiki

Comfort Spiral

Jama said...

Interesting information!

Roger Owen Green said...

I love the Biblical history.
ROGER, ABC Wednesday team

Louis la Vache said...

Another outstanding post, Dina!
«Louis» is sending the link to this to many of his e-mail friends.

Leif Hagen said...

Dina - I'm going to start calling you Professor Dina since I'm learning so many interesting details from your blog besides enjoying the fab fotos!

Mar said...

Yes, very educative post, I learned something new today, oh!!

O is for...

Hilda said...

That is such a beautiful explanation of the sculpture, which I also find lovely because of the textures and colors. Fascinating description of the season too. Does someone in the museum add a peg to the grid every day during Omer?

Sarah said...

such a wonderful tool!

arabesque said...

i didn't know anything about this and was glad you gave a very informative insight about it... really interesting. ^-^

moneythoughts said...

Thanks for this post and the photo of the piece of art. While I once knew all this stuff, I have forgotten most of it as I live like a goy now. : )

Finished reading A Tale of Love and Darkness this morning. I think you would especially enjoy this book. After you read it, I would love to discuss it with you and even walk the streets in Jerusalem that he talks about. While that isn't likely to happen, it is nevertheless, a nice thought.

Pietro said...

Very interesting both the art work and your good explanation!

Mary Ann said...

I love that piece of art. Since I didn't know anything about the 49 days, so thanks very much for giving such a thorough description.

JM said...

This is absolutely cool and I also find it a beautiful art piece!

Anonymous said...

This is wonderful! Has great appeal....
I really like it.
Sherry Mukilteo Daily Photo