According to the Torah (Lev.23:15) we are obligated to count the days between Passover and Shavu’ot. Every night, from the second night of Passover to the night before Shavu’ot, we recite a blessing and state the count of the Omer in both weeks and days. The counting of 49 days is to remind us of the link between Passover, which commemorates the Exodus from slavery in Egypt, and Shavu’ot, culminating on the fiftieth day, which commemorates the giving of the Torah. This reminds us that the redemption from slavery was not complete until we received the Torah.
This interim period is also known as sefirah. It is a holy, meditative time when certain practices are allowed and certain others are taboo. For instance, for the first 32 days, customs of mourning take place such as prohibition from shaving, cutting one’s hair, getting married, listening to (live) music, or purchasing a home. This is in remembrance of Rabbi Akiva and his thousands of students who died of a mysterious plague.
However, on Lag BaOmer the thirty-third day of counting, we are given a 24-hour reprieve prior to descending back into our solemn moments. Dr. Michael Jacobson discusses Michael Jacobs’ and Eve Greenfield’s book, 'Counting the Omer and Making the Omer Count,' which takes a Kabbalistic view on the function of counting the Omer. It is a method for introspection and self-awareness and enabling our ability to transcend from our lower selves.
In the Kabbalisstic Tree of Life there are seven spiritual attributes (sefirot or gateways) connecting humans with G-d. They are Chesed – loving kindness; Gevurah – judgement; Tiferet – beauty; Netzach – victory; Hod – glory, Yesod – foundation; and Malchut – kingdom. Each one of these pathways serves not only as a subject in itself for meditation, but also a context in tandem with another attribute.
In addition to my readings by Dr. Michael Isaacson, I have been introduced to these sefirot through my meditation sits with the Institute for Jewish Spirituality. The teachings have been fascinating and the combination of attributes has revealed new insights into human nature as it is now and our potential for elevating and employing these revelations of ourselves for a higher calling.
Dr. Isaacson suggests pondering on some basic questions each evening as you count the Omer. They include, “Am I sooner to love and show kindness than find fault in my family and friends?; When I judge others and myself do I come from a place of strength or weakness?; Do I look for the beauty in my world or only its ugliness?; When I am victorious do others win as well or do I win primarily at their expense?; Do I seek glory at the expense of compassion for others or simply to bolster my own ego?; Do I seek too easy, shallow solutions or opt for more challenging ones with firmer foundations for the future?; Am I building a kingdom that is just for all or only for myself? Do I encourage others to be insightful or remain aloof and separate myself from positive growth? This probing each night brings greater depth to my understanding of life and purpose.
Another powerful message shared by Rabbi Benyomin Weisz is that we can get trapped within time as time can constrict and weigh us down with stress, boredom or despair. He states, “Counting means forging a conscious, mindful relationship with time and its moments. It’s saying I am choosing today, in place of living passively. It enables even a difficult wait to become meaningful, because I receive what the present moment presents me with and I acknowledge its potential for growth."
The Counting of the Omer is a time to recognize that we are always on a journey forward and not controlled by luck, nature, or statistics. We are leaving the limitations represented by Egypt and building towards our connection to the eternal and to Torah. We have the power to use time wisely for productive purposes and fill our days with meaning and spiritual elevation. It is our choice. We need to choose to make this moment matter.
I urge you to use this reflective time during the Counting of the Omer to make each moment matter. With each day, seek more meaning and know that there is a plan for us even though at times it may be challenging. There is something we need to learn through each experience, like this pandemic, and we will come out the other side stronger and more cognizant of what is important in life.