Omer 101: or “So Who’s Counting?”

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I am!

As a student in ALEPH’s Spiritual Direction program — Hashpa’ah — I am learning about the incredible wealth of resources within our tradition to develop a compelling connection to God.

I lately find myself ‘experiencing’ God, even more than ‘believing in’ God, as that phraseology better expresses our relationship.  Yes, our relationship.  I have a relationship with God!

Never thought about it that way.  Pretty amazing.

And right now, I find Counting the Omer, a very supportive tool in strengthening that relationship.

So what’s it all about?

The Omer is simply an ancient measure of grain.  There are two citations in the Torah for it:

  • Lev. 23: 15-16 – “(15) And from the day on which you bring the sheaf of elevation offering – the day after the sabbath – you shall count off seven full weeks: (16) You must count until the day after the seventh week – fifty days; then you shall bring an offering of new grain to the Lord.”
  • Deut. 16:9-10 – “(9) You shall count off seven weeks; start to count the seven weeks when the sickle is first put to the standing grain. (10) Then you shall observe the Feast of Weeks for the LORD your God, offering your freewill contribution according as the LORD your God has blessed you.”

OK – this clearly marks a key period of time in the agricultural world of our ancestors.

But in the Rabbinic and post-Rabbinic era, the holiday of Shavuot and the period leading up to it took on new metaphysical meaning.

Maimonides said, in his Guide for the Perplexed:

The Feast of Weeks (holiday of the First Fruits – and the end of grain harvest) is the anniversary of the Revelation on Mount Sinai. In order to raise the importance of this day, we count the days that pass since the preceding festival, just as one who expects his most intimate friend on a certain day counts the days and even the hours.  This is the reason why we count the days that pass since the offering of the Omer, between the anniversary of our departure from Egypt and the anniversary of the Lawgiving.  The latter was the aim and the object of the exodus from Egypt…

In her book, Journey Through the Wilderness, Rabbi Yael Levy notes that the Kabbalists, the Jewish mystics of the 16th and 17th centuries, went a step further.  “The Counting of the Omer became a time of spiritual exploration and cleansing, a way for us to prepare our souls to receive the divine guidance that comes to us each year on Shavuot,” she writes.

Counting the Omer can be a 49-day mindfulness practice aimed at helping us pay attention to the movement of our lives, to notice the subtle shifts, the big changes, the yearnings, the strivings, the disappointments, the fears, hopes and joys.  It is an opportunity for deep introspections, a call to notice our inclinations, our default responses, our reactions to shifting emotions and circumstances. The invitation is to count each day, and as we do, to meditate and reflect on the spiritual qualities.”

The Kabbalists aligned seven Sefirot with the seven weeks, assigning a Sefira to each one:

Week One:      Chesed – Loving-Kindness

Week Two:      Gevurah – Restraint/Strength

Week Three:   Tiferet – Harmony/Balance

Week Four:     Netzach – Perseverance/Eternity

Week Five:      Hod – Gratitude/Acknowledgment

Week Six:         Yesod – Bonding/Foundation

Week Seven:  Malchut – Majesty/Divine Presence

Then – they cross tabbed them (!) – to give EACH of the 49 days a particular focus:

ChesedDay 1Day 2Day 3Day 4Day 5Day 6*Day 7
GevurahDay 8Day 9Day 10Day 11Day 12Day 13Day 14
TiferetDay 15Day 16Day 17Day 18Day 19Day 20Day 21
NetzachDay 22Day 23Day 24Day 25Day 26Day 27Day 28
HodDay 29Day 30Day 31Day 32Day 33Day 34Day 35
YesodDay 36Day 37Day 38Day 39Day 40Day 41Day 42
MalkhutDay 43Day 44Day 45Day 46Day 47Day 48Day 49

*For example:  the 6th day is ‘Yesod in Chesed’/ Foundational Loving-Kindness.  A great day to remember where you learned about Loving-Kindness in the first place. In a small session I taught earlier that day, we all took a moment to think of our dear family and friends, who taught us about Loving-Kindness. 

What an amazing framework to use to strengthen my experience of God in my life. 

You know, it’s just a template – but what a template!  And what an opportunity to ‘con-template’ (template together?) my relationship with God, in particular, respecting the Divine Spark that is within me, and within my fellow creatures, and my obligation to make the most of my time here.

Did I say time?
Yes, counting the Omer is marking time, a very important passage in the days of the lives of our ancestors and still so very relevant today.

And why?

Well, no surprise – Torah has a great teaching here in Ps. 90:12:

לִמְנ֣וֹת יָ֭מֵינוּ כֵּ֣ן הוֹדַ֑ע וְ֝נָבִ֗א לְבַ֣ב חׇכְמָֽה׃״ “

“Teach us to count our days rightly,
that we may obtain a heart of wisdom.”

So, who’s counting?  I am. 

Maybe you too?

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