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Walking the Omer, by Rabbi Roni Handler

This practice of counting, of singling out each day, also serves as a reminder to make each and every day count.

As our second seder draws to a close, many of us have the tradition of beginning the process of counting the omer. We count each day, 49 days in all, until we reach Shavuot on day 50. We pause each day, focus our attention and say a blessing. This practice of counting, of singling out each day, also serves as a reminder to make each and every day count. 

The omer practice that my wife and I have developed hearkens back to the fact that Passover and Shavuot are two of the pilgrimage festivals, or shalosh regalim. On these occasions, our ancestors would literally walk from their homes to Jerusalem in order to participate in festival rites. This pilgrimage commemorated an even earlier journey; when our ancient ancestors walked from Egypt to Mt. Sinai and left behind the slavery they experienced in Egypt. In the story of the Exodus, the Israelites did not simply set up camp and wait for revelation to find them. Instead they journeyed together, from slavery toward freedom, engaging their minds, bodies and spirits. In our practice, we too link Passover to Shavuot by means of walking.

As Passover approaches we dust off our pedometers, make sure the  batteries are fresh, the pedometers are accurately recording our steps, and we prepare to “Walk the Omer.” Our goal is to walk a minimum of 7,000 steps per day, ideally shooting for the health conscious goal of 10,000 steps. Every night as we prepare to say the blessing and count the new day we record the number of steps we achieved during the day that is ending and also share reflections from notable walks. 

As the warm weather descends upon us, the light increases in our days, and the crocuses and daffodils pop their colorful heads through the once frozen earth, it is invigorating to reemerge from our patterns of winter hibernation, and I find myself eager to explore the world and leave behind my sedentary ways of winter. As I walk along each day and explore the neighborhoods around me—whether near my home, my work, or even while on vacation—part of my spiritual practice of counting the omer has been noticing the beauty and complexity that surrounds me. 

I am mesmerized as I smell the fragrant herbs and flowers and take in the colors of spring as they burst forth and almost dance before my eyes. In these moments I feel deeply connected with Passover as hag ha’aviv, the festival of spring, and I understand the psalmists’ observations when they write about the splendor and grandeur of our natural world. I feel spiritually connected, and through the practice of walking, I also become physically grounded. I re-establish my rootedness with the earth while at the same time reenacting the journey toward freedom.

We are eager to hear from you about your omer practice. Add a comment and tell us your experience of counting the omer.  Or join me this year in “Walking the Omer!”

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