LOS ANGELES (JTA) — During the counting of the Omer, the period between the first day of Passover and the day before Shavuot, sheaves of grain mark the passage of time. In the land of ancient Israel it was a period wrought with concern and angst, as it was harvest time and a single heavy storm could damage the season’s crops.
Today, what does the Omer mark? The days till summer?
Sometime in the 18th century an Omer calendar was devised that … OK. Stop. Forget this for a minute; it can wait.
The Omer lasts 49 days, during which I have been going to shul in the morning, wrapping tefillin — you know, the works. While davening I found something, and it’s weighing on my mind.
About a week ago I am sitting in the service, minding my business, and as I turn the page to the prayer book to chant Ashrei, a sheet falls to the floor. I pick up the neatly typed paper and begin to read. Alarmed at first, then bewildered, my eyes widen then narrow. I know this is a period of anticipation and spiritual awakening. Anyway, judge for yourself.
“Help! Be careful what you ask for,” the sheet says. “I will never again invite a prophet into my home. Elijah has been at my house since Pesach, and I can’t get him to leave. Who would have guessed? It was the end of the seder. The cup was filled. Elan, my son, opened the front door. Everyone rose. As a custom, it is a family prank for someone to bump a table leg, jiggle Elijah’s cup and excite the children.
“Tonight, the joke is on us, we get totally punked. For after the front door is opened and everyone rises — in he strolls, Elijah, with a burlap bag slung over his shoulder and a single word printed in large type on the chest of his sweatshirt: ‘HaNaVee,’ the Prophet. He’s here, the man from the song — ‘Hatishbee,’ the Tishbite from Gilead, the taker of a million sweetened seder sips.
“Ha, ha, ha. What a close to our seder. Everyone laughs and leaves. My family and friends think this is really funny — a Hollywood la-la-land set-up.
” ‘What a joker, Bob,’ says my cousin Seth, as he closes the door. ‘So long, and stop abusing out-of-work actors.’
“But Elijah stays. He has arrived with no advance warning; though technically speaking, we did invite him in. He carries no luggage — all that seder wine in strange households and not even a toothbrush.
“So how do I know he’s the real thing? Is it the wings? Nah. This is L.A. — the City of Angels, wings are everywhere. But here’s the giveaway: Who but a prophet, during the Counting of the Omer, would travel with his own sack of barley, you know, Omer?
” ‘Plan on doing your own cooking?’ I ask. He nods.
” ‘Maybe he’s an old friend?’ asks my wife, who though exhausted seems intrigued. ‘Maybe he’s one of your old UCLA Jewish Radical pals?’ He yawns, puts down his sack, and crashes on the sofa. Before we even have a chance to clean the matzah crumbs off the pillow, he’s asleep.
“Anyway, that was over six long weeks ago. Now we’re approaching erev Shavuot, and he’s still here — like the final contestant in some reality show — Prophet in the House. His days are spent in all manner of prophetic business: frying barley for breakfast (not bad, by the way, with a little salsa), sticking bright pink pronouncements on my neighbor’s doors, altering my screensaver (it’s now a pattern of swirling Jerusalem stone), tightening the knots on my tallis, crashing every bris in town (he claims he was invited).
“Right now, as I write this, he’s in the kitchen marking up our wall calendar; filling the dates with scrawls, intimations, and things-to-do. He’s such a Maven University graduate. But just ask him something useful, like a prediction for the World Series, and mums the word.
“Just before Lag b’Omer, I called the board of rabbis, thinking maybe they could find him a job. ‘Does he have s’micha?’ I was asked.
“The Jewish Vocational Service had another idea — retraining the prophet as a Wall Street prognosticator, except he wanted too many days off.
“What should I make of this visitation? If the days between Pesach and Shavuot are about introspection, can’t I ‘introspect’ on my own? Elijah, dude, we connect several times a year with candles and wine, isn’t that enough? I really don’t need the help. This Jewish ‘Cat in the Hat’ act has got to end. Stop shaking my spice box!
“If this is a reality show, it has become too real. Who is the contestant? Him or me? Please, how do I get him to leave? Wait till next Pesach? Or just next Havdalah? Let’s share. Does someone else need a guide? Is there as category on craigslist? Teacher and guide, perhaps? Make that ‘spiritual guide. Travels light, and has own transportation.’ (Legend has it that with four flaps of his wings he can traverse the world.)
“So why was he parked on my sofa for almost seven weeks? Was it something I said? Did? Thought? Felt? Or just something I ate? I promise, I will never daydream through another haftarah. My only hope is that as the sun sets into Shavuot, he’s down to his last Omer. And as I said at the beginning, never ever invite a prophet into your home — that is, unless you are truly ready to have him stay.”
Wow. Sounds like someone’s had a bit too much barley — or barley-derived beverage. Could this be some kind of Jewish urban legend? The kind of thing someone sends you in an e-mail?
On Passover, don’t be dissuaded. At the end of the seder, open the door. What’s the worst that could happen? It’s only seven weeks.
(Edmon J. Rodman is a Los Angeles writer and designer.)