Counting the Omer - 5779

According to the Torah, we are directed to count the days from Passover to Shavuot. This period of 49 days is known as the Counting of the Omer. An Omer is a unit of measure for grain.

"You shall count for yourselves -- from the day after the Shabbat, from the day when you bring the Omer of the waving -- seven Sabbatot, they shall be complete. Until the day after the seventh Shabbat you shall count, fifty days..." -Leviticus 23:15-16

"You shall count for yourselves seven weeks, from when the sickle is first put to the standing crop shall you begin counting seven weeks. Then you will observe the Festival of Shavu'ot for your God", Deuteronomy 16:9-10

On the second day of Passover, in the days of the Temple, an Omer of barley was cut down and brought to the Temple as an offering This grain offering was referred to as the Omer. Every night, from the second night of Passover to the night before Shavuot, we recite a blessing and state the count of the Omer in both weeks and days. So, for example, on the 10th day, you would say "Today is ten days, which is one week and four days of the Omer." 

The counting is intended to remind us of the link between Passover, which commemorates the Exodus, and Shavuot, which came to commemorates the giving of the Torah. It reminds us that the redemption from slavery was not complete until we received the Torah (a later interpretation of the meaning of Shavuot). On Passover there is a shift from praying for rain to praying for dew and this begins the growth period for the fruit of the season.

Over these seven weeks, daily reflection, work on one's middot (characteristics) and potential inner and relational growth from this work on self was one way to pray for and invite the possibility of affecting one's life and potential - nurturing and growing the fruit of our souls.

In the mystical system of Kabbalah, each of the sefirot is a Divine trait or emanation that brings light in measured stages from the Infinite (Ein Sof) into the finite – our world. These traits are not just designed to be “out there” in the esoteric world, but to be integrated and expressed in our everyday actions and relationships. 

During the period of the Omer, not only is each week lived in the energy of one of the sefirot, but each day of the week also is related to a sefirah. So, the second day of the Omer would be the day of Gevurah in the week of Chesed, and the 8th day of the Omer would be the day of Chesed in the second week- Gevurah. Thus, the Omer period is a wonderful opportunity to be immersed in the study of the sefirot and to explore their meaning in one’s life as a deep and profound pathway toward spiritual growth. Rabbi Yael Levy and other Jewish writers and liturgists have created resources to help us consciously work on the Omer during this time.

The seven attributes we work on in sequence day by day within each week are:

1. Chesed – Lovingkindness; flow

2. Gevurah – Justice, boundaries and discipline;

3. Tiferet – Harmony, compassion; balance

4. Netzach – Endurance; (External)

5. Hod – Splendor, Humility (internal)

6. Yesod – Foundation: Relationship; Generativity

7. Malchut – Self-Realization, leadership, manifesting

The forty-nine-day period of counting the Omer is also a conducive time to study the teaching of the Mishna in Pirkei Avot 6:6, which enumerates the many ways by which Torah is acquired. 

The reality is we are all slaves to something – to work, or a relationship, to fear, or food, to a lack of discipline, or too much discipline, to love, or a lack of love. The word Mitzrayim (‘Egypt’ in Hebrew) means limitations and boundaries and represents all forms of constraints that inhibit our true free expression. Our people's redemption from Egypt teaches us how to achieve inner freedom in our lives. Enslavement is a habit that needs to be broken and transformed over an extended period.

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