I have learned that the period of time after Pesach is called the “counting of the Omer.” We are said to be counting the days from Passover until the holiday of Shavuos. What is the point of this counting, now that we have calendars and can simply look up the date of Shavuos? Is it one of those things we do just because they used to do it, or is there some other reason for doing this count?
The “counting of the Omer,” which begins the second night of Pesach until the holiday of Shavuos, is called sefiras ha’omer and is one of the 613 mitzvos of the Torah.
The Torah says, “You shall count for yourselves, from the morrow of the rest day (Pesach), from the day when you bring the Omer (offering)…seven weeks…” (Leviticus 23:15).
Let’s try to understand this mitzvah.
When one has a special event coming up that he is truly excited about and looking forward to, he often counts the days until that time arrives. For the Jewish people, the most exciting time in our history was receiving the Torah at Sinai. This was the time that we achieved the greatest intimacy of all time with the Almighty. At that time, we became an eternal nation and received our “marching orders” for the upcoming thousands of years: how to be a light unto the nations and elevate ourselves to unique spiritual greatness.
Although this transpired over 3,300 years ago, our tradition teaches that our holidays are not mere celebrations of historical occurrences. We have often explained in this column that our holidays recur yearly; the same spiritual light revealed by the Almighty at that time of our history returns when we arrive at the same time of the year.
In a sense, the Torah is given to us yearly at Shavuos. Hence, year after year, we again count the days from our freedom (Pesach) till the time of the fulfillment of the purpose of that freedom (Shavuos). This counting shows our anticipation and excitement to again experience those spiritual heights on Shavuos.
Going one step deeper, the period of sefiras ha’omer is one of growth. In order to receive the Torah, we need to transform ourselves to be worthy receptacles fit to receive all that intense spiritual energy.
The Mishnah (Pirkei Avos, ch. 6) enumerates 48 study habits and positive character traits through which one merits the acquisition of Torah. The 49 days of “counting” are a period of acquiring these “48 ways” and, on the last day fusing them into oneself, ready to receive the Torah on Day 50, the day of Shavuos.
(To study these “48 ways,” see aish.com. In addition, DATA is sponsoring a communitywide study of the 48 ways this year, providing weekly emails and insights, based upon the book The 48 Ways by Rabbi Noach Weinberg ob’m and available at aish.com or at artscroll.com. Anyone who would like to join the communitywide program can contact Rabbi Shaya Fox at firstname.lastname@example.org. It promises to be very enlightening.)
The deeper sources provide yet another vehicle for growth through the sefiras ha’omer, based upon the concept of sefiros, or 10 Kabbalistic levels of existence. During the 49 days of sefiras ha’omer, it is a time to perfect ourselves in relation to the seven lower sefiros; those sefiros which reflect God’s interaction with the physical world. These seven sefiros interact with each other, like DNA, where every cell of the body has within it the DNA of every other part of the body. Each sefirah contains all the aspects of each other sefirah within itself, hence the seven multiples of seven, or 49 days of counting.
In order to tap into this spiritual energy, we count the days, connecting ourselves to the days and marking it as a time of growth and introspection, taking us forward toward Shavuos.
Wishing all joyous final days of Pesach and happy counting!
Counting of Omer and anticipating the Torah