The omer (Hebrew: עמר) is an ancient Israelite unit of dry measure used in the era of the Temple in Jerusalem. It is used in the Bible as an ancient unit of volume for grains and dry commodities, and the Torah mentions as being equal to one tenth of an ephah.
Passover is almost over. Out of town family has returned home. Seder 5776 will soon take its place as a memory. Our thoughts turn to putting the house back to pre-Passover “order”. We smile as some matzah crumbs fall from a haggadah as we put it back on the book shelf. Tablecloths are soaking – to remove the wine stains, when really we should leave them as a reminder of the aliveness around the Seder table. We think we are almost done – but we are actually entering a time of great possibility!
As our ancestors traveled through the wilderness to Sinai, we, too, journey by bringing mindful awareness to each of the 49 days between Passover, “Time of our liberation,” and Shavuot, “Time for giving our Torah.” “Counting the omer,” as it is called, requires a daily blessing and an announcement of the number of days into the journey.
Counting, in and of itself, is not necessarily transformative. Throughout the centuries, artists, spiritual leaders, writers, and assorted other folks have created omer counters which reflect creativity and invite engagement. At the end of this post, there are links to several examples available on-line. Through making our counting mindful we connect these two festivals and recognize that there is meaning in the journey itself.
Our spiritual and physical Passover preparations directed us to leave behind the constrictions of what created narrow mindedness and imposed boundaries. These seven weeks now invite us to make space for a life is expansive, grounded and growth-filled. While the unknown factors which define the journey may leave us feeling restless, unsure and uncomfortable, we can choose to use this time for healing and nourishing our emotional, spiritual, physical and ethical being. With each day, we create more space for receiving Torah in our lives – whether we accepted it as Divinely revealed, Divinely inspired or as metaphor. This timeless wisdom which instructs how to build a meaningful relationship with what is beyond us, within us and between us is offered to all – child and elder, woman and man, secular humanist, atheist and believer.
Torah is simultaneously ancient and contemporary. Each generation, in fact, every person receives its wisdom according to her or his ability. The mystics speak of two fires – the black fire of the letters and the white fire of the spaces in between the letters. Both illuminate. Both liberate the sacred from the profane. This is not to say one can simply read scripture like a novel, though it contains beautiful narratives. Rather, deep reading compels us to ask questions, and therein comes the expansiveness and brilliance of these teachings. For the questions pondered by one generation may differ from those of another generation. Or, as society evolves in its understanding of, for example, gender and sexual identity, we are asked to grapple with texts which challenge, frustrate and even offend. Especially during moments of social change such as we increasingly face, we are compelled to examine the questions raised and obligated to respond. We do this through deep thinking rooted in ethics that reflect the foundational teaching taught in the Book of Leviticus 19, which instructs us to, “Love your neighbor as yourselves.” This is Torah.
How, then, can we use these days and weeks to ready our souls spiritually for the sacred work at hand? Consider Psalm 90:12, “Teach us to account for our days that we may grow a heart of wisdom,” Living with such awareness reminds us of both the preciousness and uncertainty of life. The poet, Mary Oliver, puts it another way, “I don’t want to end up simply having visited this world.”
May your journey prepare you for a richer, more engaged life of meaning and purpose.
My greeting to you: Moadim l’simcha – “ Appointed Festivals [are] for joy”,
To which you respond: Chagim uz’manim l’sason – “ [The] Festivals and times [are] for rejoicing!
Note: Yizkor (Memorial prayers) is recited in Reform synagogues tomorrow morning and on Saturday in traditional synagogues.
Tomorrow we all say, “Shabbat shalom”,
Rabbi Nina J. Mizrahi, Community Rabbi
28 April 2016/ 20 Nissan 5776
Homer Omer Counter (http://homercalendar.net/Welcome.html)
Interpretive omer counters created by artists (http://richardmcbee.com/writings/contemporary-jewish-art/item/counting )
The Mussar Institute’s spiritual growth counter (http://mussarinstitute.org/emails/omer/2016day6.html
A farming, parenting and Jewish farming site: http://www.thelettuceedge.com/tag/counting-the-omer/
From Ritual Well: http://www.ritualwell.org/ritual/counting-omer-mindfulness-practice
From Mishkan Shalom: https://mishkan.org/count-the-omer-with-us-from-passover-to-shavuot
There are even apps – just google, “alternative omer counters.”