The Counting of Our Days: The “Omer”

This week we begin the tradiiton of the “omer”. This is a period from Pesach through the festival of Shavuot when we are asked to “count” each day. There are various commentaries on when this counting should start. But I wanted to look at the context of this tradition before we return to the regular Torah reading cycle next week. The counting of the “omer” may have had its origin in our agricultural agrarian past. Today, its symbolism is often overlooked. Rabbi Karyn Kedar, in a recent blog post and in her book “Omer: A Counting” (CCAR Press) reminds us that this idea of counting each day invites us to “gain a sense of footing, to lift our eyes beyond the mundane and think and learn, consider and see, really what is possible and interesting and fantastic in our lives”
Rabbi Kedar’s invitation speaks to the frenetic aspect of much of life. (How many of us put away the cell phones during seder?) Jewish tradition is rich with instruction to live “in” the day, and not “for” the day. By focusing on the moment, the day, we can let go of the issues of our past which often control our life. This “in the moment” philosophy is a much needed point of view for so many of us. One of the reasons why meditation and mindfullness is a growth industry for so many is the fact that we are feeling so overwhelmed and controlled by factors outside our own self. In her book “Sacred Therapy”, Estelle Frankel writes that: “When we live in the now, we are always free to change the course of our lives. The evil urge, said the rabbis, often comes to us as a voice reminding us of our past errors in order to discourage us from believing we can change. This voice tries to convince us that the past will always determine the future”
This season of counting, then, is quite relevant. It is a serious reminder to celebrate each day, indeed, each moment as a gift; a gift that allows us to take control of our own life, to let go of the pasts that enslave us and, as the Israelites did at seder, to move to a sense of personal liberation and freedom. “Dayenu”!
Rabbi Richard F Address, D.Min

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