Today is December 13, 2019 -
By Hazzan Michael Krausman
During this period of time between Pesach and the festival of Shavuot, Jews all over the world will count the days of the Omer. The Omer is a sheaf of barley that was offered at the Holy Temple of Jerusalem on the second day of Passover. We carefully count, either at home or in the synagogue each day of the Omer, as we anticipate the arrival of Shavuot, while reciting a special blessing. The Omer has become a time of great solemnity. It is customary to refrain from celebrations, haircuts, musical entertainment and other forms of merriment. Traditionally, the reason given for this sadness is a terrible plague which befell the students of the great sage Rabbi Akiva during the Omer many years ago.
Lag B’Omer, the thirty-third day of the counting, however, is celebrated as a minor holiday. Many enjoy picnics and field day games on this day. In Meron, Israel, tens of thousands gather on Lag B’Omer at the grave of the great sage Shimon Bar Yochai to dance and sing the entire night around a huge bonfire. According to tradition, the source of the sudden change in mood is a reported break in the plague which is said to have occurred on that day. The solemnness of the Omer is also interrupted by Yom Ha’Atzmaut, Israel’s Independence Day, Yom Yerushalaim, Jerusalem unification day, and Rosh Hodesh, the first day of the Hebrew month.
On Shavuot, after a seven-week wait, we celebrate the receiving of the Torah on Mt. Sinai, where according to tradition, every Jewish soul in perpetuity was present. While Moses served as our representative, he accepted the Torah on behalf of a grateful Jewish People. He proclaimed: “Kol Asher Diber Hashem Na’ase… all that the Lord has spoken we will do” (Exodus 19:8). Although we achieved our physical freedom on Pesach, our spiritual redemption did not occur until we received the Torah – the blueprint for living a life in harmony with our Creator.
Perhaps the best way to strengthen our relationship with the Torah is to learn how to read from the sacred text. The ancient sages mandated that in order to make the text more appealing when read in public, it must be set to music. Thus, the Torah, like all of the Hebrew Bible, is chanted according to an ancient system of music called “Cantillation”, “Ta’ame Ha Mikra” or “Trop”. Stemming from the 10th century, this system uses symbols to represent short musical phrases. The symbols emanated from a system of hand signals which are given by an assistant to the Torah reader, to remind the reader of the musical interpretation of the text. In an effort to codify these hand signs, each word in the Bible was given a Cantillation symbol which not only represents music but also indicates punctuation and identifies accented syllables. In order to master the technique of Torah chanting, all one needs to do is to learn the cantillation symbols and practice joining them to the words of the text. In fact, anyone who has ever chanted the V’Ahavta paragraph of the Shema has already experienced using cantillation.
At Beth El, we are fortunate to have a dedicated crew of Torah readers who are part of our Yad Squad. Every congregation in the world reads from the same portion each week; this has been the practice for millennia. When you read from our sacred scroll you are instantly connected across time and space to every Jewish community that ever was and ever will be! I encourage people of all ages to join the Yad Squad in order to learn this wonderful and fulfilling skill. No musical ability is required, just a little time and a sincere effort. A reading ability of Hebrew is also important.
If you would like to become a Ba’al Koreh (Trained Torah Reader) or would like more information, feel free to contact me through the synagogue office or email me at email@example.com.
Plan on taking advantage of the opportunity to receive the Torah for yourself and to develop a personal relationship with our most Holy Text by learning to be a Ba’al Koreh. The rewards that can be gained from learning to read the Torah will enrich your Jewish life, delight your soul and remain with you forever.