Yet the Torah reading today deals in detail with the atonement rituals and focusses on a fast which has not begun to make its presence felt in the calendar or on the Jewish agenda.
There actually is a link to be discerned between the counting of the Omer for seven weeks and the lead-up to Yom Kippur for forty days from the beginning of Ellul.
What does the Omer do for us? It joins Pesach, the festival of freedom, with Shavu’ot, the festival of law. Shavu’ot is the culmination of our celebration of freedom. When you have freedom you have to know what to do with it, and the answer is that by living by the Divine law you learn to use your freedom responsibly.
For its part, Yom Kippur is also the culmination of a lead time. Rosh Chodesh Ellul was when Moses ascended the mountain to ask forgiveness for the sin of the golden calf. It took forty days of hard work on Moses’ part to secure the response he sought, Salachti – “I have forgiven!”
This is also a stage in the moral development of the people of Israel. First the people gained their freedom. Then – as we have seen – they heard that by means of the Torah they would possess the guidelines to responsible use of their freedom.
But what would happen if they lapsed and failed to live responsibly? Would they lose everything?
The episode of the golden calf was an example. God had told them not to apply their freedom to the worship of other gods. They disobeyed. But they did not forfeit either their freedom or their future. Moses showed them the way to proceed.
“If you sin,” he implied – but he did not say, as did classical Christianity, that they were bound to sin because of a taint inherited from Adam – “you will have to work hard and to plead with the Almighty to forgive you.
If he is convinced that you really mean it, He will not abandon you. He will listen and, hopefully, give you the same message He gave me: Salachti kid’varecha – ‘I have forgiven as you have asked’.”