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Counting the Omer

Counting the Omer

Beginning with the second night of Pesach we count the Omer until we arrive in our calendar at Shavuot. To help you with the counting, we have prepared a leaflet for you with a calendar, the blessings, and the numbers (download link below and available in the Shul).

Traditionally, the Omer is counted in the evening, after sunset.

Chag Sameach

The Jewish calendar is big on time and, in most cases, follows a natural pattern, such as the moon, the sun, and/or the seasons. However, Shabbat comes every week, whether or not Friday night feels like a Tuesday or a Thursday or if we are in summer or winter. Something I learned to appreciate, especially in the weeks and months of the lockdown, when every day looked like the day before.

Another odd thing in our calendar are the weeks of the Omer Counting. The Omer is the 49-day period counting from the second day of Pesach to the first day of Shavuot, and according to traditional Jewish law, each day of this period must be ritually counted. Like with all Jewish rituals, there are rules: the day must be counted at night, after sunset, and with the appropriate blessing. There are Omer calendars, phone apps, and WhatsApp groups to remind people to count, and of course there is our Omer counting sheet, which is included in your Kehillah magazine for April.

Technically, according to the Bible, an “omer” is simply a biblical measure of grain, and we are counting the days between the first grain offering of the year and the new meal offering given at the peak of the harvest season, 50 days later. Counting the Omer is simply a way to count down from one harvest to the next. Over the years, Shavuot transformed from a harvest festival to the holiday celebrating the day the Jews received the Torah at the foot of Mount Sinai, challenging the sages also to find a new understanding for the Omer counting, which by itself is a Torah command and cannot therefor be overlooked.

I like the idea that the Omer marks the 50-day period between when the Israelites escaped the slavery in Mitzrayim and when they received the Torah in the wilderness – therefore, our counting creates year after year a link between freedom and salvation. Today, we understand that liberation alone is not sufficient enough, it is also the knowledge and action on how to protect the freedom for every single individual that makes it a sacred and lasting experience for everyone. Counting the Omer reminds us that every generation is on that same journey and that we all need to nurture the fragile plant called freedom.

May we all go from strength to strength – in our individual journeys and in our joint journey as a community.

Rabbi Adrian M Schell