Counting the Omer is an ancient practice that has evolved over thousands of years along with the Jewish people. It has the ability to expand our awareness, root us in tradition, and connect us to the cycles of nature. It is one long mitzvah that we fulfill over the seven weeks between Passover and Shavuot.
These 49 days connect two deeply significant historical memories and inner experiences for the Jewish people, the redemption from slavery in Egypt and the revelation of Torah at Mt. Sinai. They are also two points on the journey of self-exploration and personal growth that we are invited to take each year.
The mitzvah of counting the Omer comes from the Book of Leviticus, where we are commanded to count the seven weeks after we bring the first omer (or bundle) of barley to the Temple in Jerusalem.
וּסְפַרְתֶּ֤ם לָכֶם֙ מִמָּחֳרַ֣ת הַשַּׁבָּ֔ת מִיּוֹם֙ הֲבִ֣יאֲכֶ֔ם אֶת־עֹ֖מֶר הַתְּנוּפָ֑ה שֶׁ֥בַע שַׁבָּת֖וֹת תְּמִימֹ֥ת תִּהְיֶֽינָה׃ עַ֣ד מִֽמָּחֳרַ֤ת הַשַּׁבָּת֙ הַשְּׁבִיעִ֔ת תִּסְפְּר֖וּ חֲמִשִּׁ֣ים י֑וֹם וְהִקְרַבְתֶּ֛ם מִנְחָ֥ה חֲדָשָׁ֖ה לַיהוָֽה׃
And from the day on which you bring the omer of elevation offering—the day after the sabbath—you shall count off seven weeks. They must be complete. You must count until the day after the seventh week—fifty days; then you shall bring an offering of new grain to the LORD. (Lev 23:15-16)
When The Temple stood in Jerusalem, the first bundle of barley would be brought to a Priest, who would elevate it in the air, and waive it from side to side and up and down, praying to keep away destructive winds and injurious dews that might damage the crop (Menachot 62a). From that day onward, one had to count seven full weeks and on the next day, bring an offering of wheat to the Temple. The counting helped our ancestors know when to begin the wheat harvest and the priest’s actions sought to keep ruinous forces at bay. While we don’t use bundles of barley anymore, we are still obligated to count.
Learn how to count the omer.
I love the transitions between holy times in the Jewish year. The spaces in-between remind us that special moments don’t often come out of a vacuum and that we can participate in the formation of holy experiences through small, sacred tasks. On Passover, we remember our Israelite ancestors’ enslavement in Egypt, as if it were our own. We say, “avadaim hayinu” – we were slaves … Continue reading The Omer in Context