These days, many of us are obsessed with counting, whether it is calories, or steps or something else. We have always counted days to different events, counted how old we are, or other “counts” we may be interested in. This brings us to the ritual of today – Counting the Omer.
Here is the scoop on Omer counting, for those of you who aren’t familiar with it. There is a special period between Passover and Shavuot called sefirah, meaning counting. The practice is observed from the night of the second seder until the eve of Shavuot, and is counted every evening after nightfall. When we count the Omer, we are counting the days on which the Omer offering of the new barley crop was brought to the Temple. This connects the Exodus from Egypt to the giving of the Torah on Mount Sinai.
Tradition has it that the Israelites were told that the Torah would be given to them 50 days after the exodus. According to Leviticus 23:15-16, they were so eager for it, that they began to count the days, saying, “Now we have one day less to wait for the giving of the Torah.”
During this time period, we observe by refraining from joyous events and other customs; for much of our history, it seems as though massacres have taken place during Omer. The one day off from mourning is Lag B’Omer, the 33rd day between Pesach and Shavout.
A good book that discusses the Omer is “Omer: A Counting,” by Rabbi Karyn D. Kedar, and published by the Central Conference of American Rabbis. In her introduction, Kedar said that, “time, in the Jewish consciousness, is purposeful and directed, ripe with potential and filled with meaning. Yet even as we look toward the future, counting each day forces us to acknowledge and appreciate the significance of the moment. Every day presents us with the choice to stay where we are, to revert to where we have been, or to progress toward fulfilling our destiny.” Her book provides the right blessings and words to say during the Omer, plus something to think about each day.
There are also several apps, available for laptop and tablets, and Android and iPhones, to help you count the Omer. These apps remind you each day to say the correct blessing; they also provide some thoughts and insights about Omer.
Whether you count the Omer using the pages of a book or apps on your phone, here is hoping that trying this ritual provides meaning for you and your family.
Laura Seymour is director of camping services at the Aaron Family Jewish Community Center.