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What is the counting of the Omer?
According to Torah (Leviticus 23:15-16; Deuteronomy 16:9-10) we are obligated to count fifty days, beginning on the second day of Pesach and ending just before the festival of Shavuot — a period called “the Omer.”
An “omer” is a unit of grain, a way to measure the sheaves that were brought as offerings to the Temple in Jerusalem, starting at the Pesach celebration and continuing through the spring harvest, the time of Shavuot, when the receiving of Torah is commemorated. This year, the Omer begins on the night of Saturday, April 23 and concludes on the evening of June 11.
What’s the point?
- Like all Jewish rituals, we may choose to count the Omer because…it’s tradition! Repeating what has been done by Jews around the world and across time connects us to the Jewish people as a whole, to our ancestors, and to our history.
- Although we no longer live in the precarious world of our ancestors, our lives are often uncertain and full of anxiety. Counting the Omer adds a structure that allows us to reflect on what is truly important and to pray for our own well-being and that of others.
- Counting the Omer draws a line between Passover, when we celebrate our freedom, and Shavuot, when we commemorate the giving and receiving of Torah at Mt. Sinai. It reminds us that, while freedom is attractive, it can leave us wandering in the wilderness. Our true liberation is not complete until we discover the kind of meaning found in the principles and practices of Judaism, outlined in Torah.
- Counting the Omer helps us remember to appreciate the value and the wonder of each day. As it says in Psalm 90:12, “Teach us to count our days, that we may obtain a wise heart.”
How is it done?
There are two parts to the traditional counting of the Omer, which takes place each evening, beginning on the second night of Pesach and continuing through the night before Shavuot. First, we recite this blessing:
Baruch ata Adonai Eloheinu Melekh ha’Olam asher kid’shanu b’mitzvotav v’tizivanu al sefirat ha’omer.
Blessed are you, Adonai our God, Ground of all Being, who has sanctified us with your commandments and commanded us to count the Omer.
Then, we state the day – and eventually the week and day — of the count:
- For the first six days, we say, “Today is the first [second…third…etc….] day of the Omer.
- Starting with the seventh day (the end of week 1), we also include the number of weeks that we have counted. On the thirteenth day, for example, we would say, “Today is thirteen days, which is one week and six days of the Omer.”
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