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Pesach 5783

04/04/2023 08:57:00 AM

Apr4

Rabbi Rudin

                   Backgrounder: Don’t Forget to Count the Omer!

                           A Short Guide to Sefirat HaOmer

                                             By Rabbi Rudin

                                           

                                               

Cantor Lois used to remind us to Count the Homer…And then I’d always remind her that it’s actually the OMER.. and we’d both laugh.. But what is the Omer and why do we count it? 

From the second night of Pesach (4/6) through Shavuot (5/25) there is a Torah Mitzvah to “Count the Omer”.  This seven week period is the crucial ripening period in Israel.  In ancient times, or even now, if a late rain or early heat wave arrives, then the entire harvest can be lost.  That is why this time is observed as a time of anxiety and greater awareness of our fragility and dependence on G-d and on nature. 

The Seven Weeks of the count are called, “The Omer” meaning a sheaf of grain.  On the night after Passover, a sheaf of the new barley crop was harvested and brought to the Temple in thanksgiving giving the period its name. 

During the Omer in the time of the Mishna (first-second centuries CE), a devastating plague during the Roman occupation of Israel (some think that the plague was the Roman Occupation) killed thousands of Torah scholars, students of Rabb Akiva, endangering the continuity of the Jewish people. 

Each evening, we say a blessing and then perform the short ritual of Sefirat HaOmer/Counting the Omer.  For details of the practice, click here.

These are the reasons why during this period we observe semi-mourning practices like:

  • Refraining from haircuts (unless needed for livelihood or other crucial reasons)
  • Refraining from enjoying live or recorded instrumental music.
  • Jewish law forbids weddings during the Omer up until Lag BaOmer (the 33rd day of the Omer)

The plague that decimated the scholars ended after thirty-three days.  That is why on the 33rd day of the count, Lag BaOmer, the above practices are ended and we celebrate with bonfires and a break from studies. 

The Omer is also the count up to the holiday of Shavuot, G-d’s Matan Torah, Revealing the Torah.  That is why the Seven Weeks of the Omer are traditionally a time when we work on our Middot (virtues), elevating ourselves spiritually to receive the Torah anew.

The Sefira (short for Sefirat HaOmer) time is a built-in period for personal growth and discovery.  For suggestions of how to make this time meaningful in your own unique way, check out this short article by Rabbi Saul Haimoff and stay tuned for more Omer Adventures!

 

Wed, April 17 2024 9 Nisan 5784