The Omer: Meaning for Today
Making it count.
The following article explores the tradition of "counting the omer," the days between Passover and the holiday of Shavuot. The omer was an offering made during these weeks in the Temple, and was agriculturally focused, like the holiday of Shavuot itself. The omer also serves to tie together the two major festivals of Passover and Shavuot. Reprinted with permission from Hillel: The Foundation for Jewish Campus Life.
Now that Passover seders are over, and we are eating matzah and are full of affliction -- one might ask, "What's a good Jewish professional to do during these days?" The answer? Count them. Count every last day until Shavuot [the Festival of Weeks]--50 in all.
The period of "the omer" begins the second night of Passover and continues until Shavuot. Literally translated, omer means "a sheaf." It refers to the measure of grain that was once offered at the Temple in Jerusalem. The Torah commanded that seven weeks be counted for the omer. It says:
15. From the day on which you bring the sheaf of elevation offering the day after the Sabbath you shall count off seven weeks. They must be complete.
16. You must count until the day after the seventh week fifty days; then you shall bring an offering of new grain to YHWH.
17. You shall bring from your settlements two loaves of bread as an elevation offering…
21. On that same day you shall hold a celebration; it shall be a sacred occasion for you; you shall not work at your occupations. This is a law for all time in all your settlements, throughout the ages.
1. Why was it important to count the days from the bringing of the omer until Shavuot?
2. Shavuot in the Bible was not connected with the giving of the Torah on Mt. Sinai, as it is now. It was an agricultural festival. And its focus was the Temple. Since the Temple no longer stands, and most of us are no longer involved in agriculture, what's the point of counting the omer today?
While there is no longer a Temple or an omer offering, the rabbis declared that we should still count the days between Passover and Shavuot. Rambam [Maimonides] even said that the commandment for us to count today comes directly from Torah!
Kabbalists [mystics] saw the omer period as a preparation for receiving the Torah on Mt. Sinai. Each day we must take one more step away from the impurities of Egypt that have remained within us. Today counting the omer can be a time of meditation where we can renew our spirits as we prepare for Shavuot. According to the mystics, each week of the seven is represented by a mystical aspect of the divine to focus on. And each day of the 49 is a combination of two aspects.