From time to time I am asked by couples to officiate at a wedding scheduled during the intermediate days of Passover. I explain that the Jewish tradition, as a rule, insists that joyous occasions not overlap. Since Passover itself is a joyous occasion, weddings are not celebrated at the same time. Perhaps, on some unconscious level, Jewish law reflects the notion that spreading joy over a wider time frame is preferred to concentrating joy in a narrower time frame. Increasing celebratory occasions is the proper response to a history dotted with tragedy.
To at least one medieval source, the principle that “we do not mix one celebration with another” comes to explain a textual difficulty as well. The Torah (Leviticus 23) teaches that the period of the Omer from Passover to Shavu’ot is counted from the second day of Passover. But why? It would seem entirely reasonable to begin the count from the onset of the Passover festival rather than after the first day!
The author of Sefer HaHinukh, reputedly Rabbi Aaron HaLevi, explains that the first day of Passover must be entirely dedicated to reflecting on the Exodus from Egypt and the wonders associated with redemption. It would be unreasonable to divert our attention from this important reflection by introducing yet another source of joy. Accordingly, the counting of the Omer begins on the second day of Passover.
In this explanation, the author of Sefer Hahinukh at once solves a textual mystery, justifies a rabbinic principle, and offers a theological rationale for two contiguous practices: the celebration of Passover and the counting of the Omer.
Passover presents us with an opportunity for appreciating God’s redemptive power. It is His “outstretched arm” that took us out of Egypt and liberated us from slavery. The Omer, in contrast, presents us with an opportunity to appreciate God’s sustaining power. The ripening of grain represents God’s intent to provide for our ongoing physical/nutritional needs. Each individually and independently tells us something different about our conception of God. Freedom is a tremendous asset. But to free us without a commitment to sustain us would be an empty gesture.
The Omer is thus a time for us to cultivate gratitude to the God who cares for our physical well-being in addition to our independence.