In Leviticus, the third book of the TorahThe Five Books of Moses, and the foundation of all of Jewish life and lore. The Torah is considered the heart and soul of the Jewish people, and study of the Torah is a high mitzvah. The Torah itself a scroll that is hand lettered on parchment, elaborately dressed and decorated, and stored in a decorative ark. It is chanted aloud on Mondays, Thursdays, and Shabbat, according to a yearly cycle. Sometimes "Torah" is used as a colloquial term for Jewish learning and narrative in general., it says, “You shall count… from the day that you brought the OmerFrom the second day of Passover until Shavuot, Jews count seven weeks – seven times seven days – to commemorate the period between the Exodus from Egypt and the Revelation at Sinai. When the Temple stood, a certain measure (omer) of barley was offered on the altar each day; today, we merely count out the days. as a wave offering” (23:15). The Omer was a measure of barley (approximately two quarts) that Jews brought as an offering to the Temple in JerusalemLit. City of peace From the time of David to the Roman destruction, Jerusalem was the capital of Israel and the spiritual and governmental center of the Jewish people. During the long exile, Jews longed to return to Jerusalem and wrote poems, prayers, and songs about the beloved city. In 1967, with the capture of the Old City, Jerusalem was reunited, becoming "the eternal capital of Israel." Still, the longing for peace is unfulfilled. on the second day of PassoverPassover is a major Jewish holiday that commemorates the Jewish people's liberation from slavery and Exodus from Egypt. Its Hebrew name is Pesakh. Its name derives from the tenth plague, in which God "passed over" the homes of the Jewish firstborn, slaying only the Egyptian firstborn. Passover is celebrated for a week, and many diaspora Jews celebrate for eight days. The holiday begins at home at a seder meal and ritual the first (and sometimes second) night. Jews tell the story of the Exodus using a text called the haggadah, and eat specific food (matzah, maror, haroset, etc).. The Biblical injunction is to count the forty-nine days from the second day of Passover until the eveEve, according to the book of Genesis, is Adam's wife, the first woman to be created. of ShavuotShavuot is the holiday fifty days after Passover and commemorates when the Israelite liberation from Egypt culminates with the giving of the Torah. Traditionally, Jews study in an all-night study session, eat dairy products (one interpretation is that the Torah is like milk to us), and read both the Ten Commandments and the Book of Ruth.. Although we no longer bring barley to the Temple, these seven weeks are still known as the “the Omer ” and the ritual of counting each night is known, not surprisingly, as “Counting the Omer.”
Passover celebrates the liberation from Egypt, and Shavuot celebrates the receiving of Torah at SinaiAccording to the Torah, God, in the presence of the Jewish people, gave Moses the Torah on Mount Sinai (Har Sinai).. By counting the Omer, we symbolically mark the time between liberation to the assumption of responsibility in the acceptance of law, making a collective commitment to living an ethical, rule-governed life of divine purpose. The Hebrew word for Egypt is mitzrayimLit. Egypt. Because the Hebrew word for narrow is tzar, Mitzrayim is also understood as "narrowness," as in, the narrow and confining places in life from which one emerges physically and spiritually., a word that can also be translated as “the narrow place” (from the word tzar or “narrow”). Mitzrayim can represent all forms of conformities and definitions that restrain, inhibit, or otherwise restrict our free movement and expression. In retelling the Exodus story on Passover, we are symbolically birthed from the “narrow straits” through the miracle of the parted waters into freedom, but we are not yet sufficiently mature to receive the Torah at Sinai – neither as a people nor as individuals. At Sinai itself, God sent kolot (which means “thunder” in biblical Hebrew) in anticipation of the giving of the law. The period between Passover and Shavuot was designated as an opportunity for personal growth and character refinement.
Jewish history, and most notably the kabbalist tradition, defined this period as one of preparing to receive the Torah at Sinai by reflecting on one’s personal character refinement. The kabbalists used an emotional ladder of the sefirot(pl of sefirah) In Kabbalah, the 10 “attributes” – channels of Divine energy – via which God interacts with creation. – aspects of our soul and God’s soul – to illuminate each day. Over the centuries, various ritual objects such as Omer counting books or small counting machines have been developed to help people remember what day of the Omer it is and what divine attribute to focus on on that day’s leg of the journey from Egypt to Sinai.
Counting the Omer is an exercise in the discipline of mindfulness. Counting each of the days from Passover until Shavuot sounds deceptively simple, but it is not an easy task. It requires a consciousness – or a mindfulness – to remember to count each night. (Traditionally, anyone who misses a day altogether may pick up the count when she or he remembers, but without the blessing. This omission is because the blessing recognizes the commandment to do the whole counting – or to practice mindfulness for 49 days straight.) Like learning a new language, practicing an instrument, or starting an exercise routine, counting the Omer is demanding. However, just as these other disciplines reward us in both expected and unexpected ways, so too the counting for 49 days stimulates a sense of accomplishment, new awareness, and mindfulness.
Making each day count is a valuable lesson which adopting the practice of counting the Omer reinforces. Counting each of the days of the Omer reminds us that all of our days are numbered, and it is our responsibility to make each day count. The deliberate way in which the Torah numbers the days of Sarah’s life, “one hundred years and twenty years and seven years” signifies both the fullness of her days and the significance of each and every day. We count the Omer in a similarly careful and focused manner in order to help us recognize the completeness of these days and of each day.
We also learn from the years of wandering in the desert and from the individual struggles represented in the stories of our heroes and heroines that waiting itself can be a sacred activity, an opportunity for reflection and trust. Although the goal of the count may be the encounter with God at Sinai, we take meaning from the journey each step of the way.
Used by permission of the author and Kolot: Center for Jewish Women and Gender Studies, RRC