At this time of the Jewish year, I have always written about Counting the Omer — this is the time we do it. Yet things are different today! We are doing things differently but we still should do them. So let’s talk about Counting the Omer. Some people don’t know what I’m talking about, some think it is meaningless today, and some, like me, have an app on their phone. It reminds me, gives me the blessing and even gives me some things to think about each night. We count from the second night of Passover through Shavuot — here are the basics:
So what is it? The special period between Passover and Shavuot is called sefirah, meaning “counting” from the practice of counting the Omer, which is observed from the night of the second seder of Passover until the eve of Shavuot. The counting of seven weeks on which the Omer offering of the new barley crop was brought to the Temple, until Shavuot, serves to connect the anniversary of the exodus from Egypt with the festival that commemorates the giving of the Torah on Mount Sinai.
Tradition has it that it was announced to the Israelites in Egypt that the Torah would be given to them 50 days after the exodus. As soon as they were liberated, they were so eager for the arrival of the promised day that they began to count the days, saying each time, “Now we have one day less to wait for the giving of the Torah.”
Does it matter today? It remains an opportunity to help us move out of enslaving patterns of thought and behavior. For the ancient Israelites, each day was a step away from the defilement of Egypt and a step toward spiritual purity. Like the Israelites who began to get ready for their encounter at Mount Sinai as soon as they crossed the Reed [or Red] Sea , we use the seven weeks beginning on Passover to similarly prepare ourselves for the arrival of Shavuot. During this time, we are supposed to evaluate our behavior and work to improve ourselves.
We all count days leading to something special — maybe good (can’t wait for my vacation), maybe bad (10 days until I have jury duty). But today we are all counting the day when we can all be together again instead of in our homes. We have found new ways to connect but the desire to be able to connect and touch one another is with us. Rabbi Sharon Barr Skolnik and Rabbi Hillel Skolnik wrote “Counting the Solitude” on myjewishlearning.com:
“In an effort to focus on the things that make our days meaningful — the moments that make our days count — we choose to end each day by counting the quarantine. We suggest that you gather your loved ones, either in person or virtually. Take a few deep breaths. Have each person share at least one instance of gratitude today. Recite the following:
Hin-ni muchan umzuman l’kayeim mitzvat aseih shel pikuach nefest, k’mo shekatur baTorah: “uvacharta bachayim.” Here I am, actively ready to fulfill the mitzvah of saving lives, as the Torah teaches, “and you shall choose life.”
Baruch ata Adonai Eloheinu Melech ha-olam, ha-oneh b’eit txarah. Blessed are You, Adonai our God Ruler of the Universe, the One who answers us in our times of crisis.
And then you count — today is the first day, today is the second… When counting the Omer, we are counting weeks so we say at each week, “today is the seventh day, which is one week — today is the 10th day which is one week and three days, etc., etc.” For some, especially children, it helps to make it visual perhaps like I’m doing for our preschoolers, adding marbles to a jar. For some, seeing the marbles fill the jar, may be a little scary — but think of the Israelites who were looking forward to a special day. Isn’t that what we are all doing? At the end, when we come out again, we can look at our jar of marbles and remember that we made it and we can do hard things to get to something special! Let’s hope that we won’t have to wait until Shavuot, although we could — or maybe let’s aim for Lag B’Omer (another holiday to learn more about now!).