What Comes After Independence?
A D'var Torah on Counting the Omer, the South Hebron Hills, Regavim, and the Jewish National Mission for Parshat Emor 2012/5772 by Rabbi Arik Ascherman
My children remember marching around as we counted the omer, the days between the liberation on Passover and receiving the Torah on Shavuot. We imagined what we were seeing while walking from Egypt towards Sinai. In this way, we led our family on a journey from liberation to the assumption of responsibility for our own destiny, represented by the acceptance of Torah.
Parshat Emor contains the command to count the days of the Omer (grain offering) during the period between Passover and Shavuot.
Rabbi Samson Rafael Hirsch explains why we counting omer while enjoying the bread of the Land:
You have already achieved liberation and the benefits of independence that are usually thought of as the ultimate goal of national aspirations. However, you must see yourselves as only at the outset of your mission as a nation, and must now count towards the achievement of a different goal...Where others finish counting, your counting begins."
Here in Israel, we are in the midst of the harvest season. Unfortunately, the harvest does not always go as peacefully as the biblical text might imagine. Just today I received a call asking for volunteers to protect Palestinians reaping near a violent settlement in the S. Hebron Hills.
On the legal front, we are now in for the fight of our lives in the South Hebron Hills. Regavim, a pro-settlement advocacy group, successfully uses misleading statistics in court to argue reverse discrimination against settlers and to demand the demolition of more Palestinian homes. The State does not challenge Regavim's premises, merely saying they will eventually demolish. But now Regavim is demanding the demolition of Susya, a Palestinian village which Rabbis for Human Rights represents. When this is over, I hope Regavim's arguments will be thoroughly discredited. We will leave no stone unturned, including raising funds for an alternative zoning plan in the area. The future of more than one village lies in the balance.
Most of my fellow Israelis want Israel to be a just and decent nation. We want to live up to our vision as a place where all people are treated fairly. And yet, in the current reality, Palestinians in Susya and elsewhere are fighting to hold onto their fields and their homes in the face of unjust seizures. We want to live up to our vision of a place in which low-income Israelis have secure homes. And yet, this year, one such woman—Rachel Levy—told me that she did not want to celebrate seder after having been evicted from her public housing apartment despite our best efforts to keep her in her home.
Hirsch challenges us to see ourselves "as only at the outset of your mission as a nation." We have left Egypt. We have achieved liberation. Now is time for the real work of achieving our vision. In Hirsch's words, "Where others finish counting, your counting begins."