Religion & Beliefs

T Minus 3 Days: Counting the Omer

I don’t know why I get into counting the Omer every year. It’s not the kind of thing I’d expect to like, although it does count the days away from Pesach, and we’ve already established that I’m not a big … Read More

By / April 1, 2007
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I don’t know why I get into counting the Omer every year. It’s not the kind of thing I’d expect to like, although it does count the days away from Pesach, and we’ve already established that I’m not a big fan Matzah Week. But the Omer is really us counting towards something, not away from something, which is why the numbers go up instead of down. If you’re new to the Omer, here’s the deal:

You shall count for yourselves — from the day after the shabbat, from the day when you bring the Omer of the waving — seven shabbats, they shall be complete. Until the day after the seventh sabbath you shall count, fifty days… -Leviticus 23:15-16 You shall count for yourselves seven weeks, from when the sickle is first put to the standing crop shall you begin counting seven weeks. Then you will observe the Festival of Shavu'ot for the LORD, your God -Deuteronomy 16:9-10

Basically, on the second day of Pesach we’re supposed to get an Omer (which is a unit of measurement) of barley and bring it to the Temple. We do this for the 49 days until Shavuot, and then we have a big party and eat cheesecake. While the basis of the mitzvah is agricultural, it also reminds us about how we change in the period between the exodus and when we got the Torah. The seven weeks of Omer counting are considered partial mourning because we don’t have the Torah yet. Haircuts and new clothes are off limits at least until the 33rd day, you can’t get married unless it Rosh Chodesh or a holiday, and many people abstain for going to live entertainment events like concerts and plays (a capella music is okay, though). What I like about the Omer is that it’s about consistency, and building up to something, which is basic tenet of how I relate to Judaism. Every night you count, and you’re advancing, it feels weirdly productive. If you forget a day you can come back, but you don’t say the blessing anymore, because you’re no longer eligible for fulfilling the whole mitzvah. It’s kind of cool, really. It’s also really hard to remember to count every day, especially if you’re not davening every day, or if your schedule changes a lot. Happily, there are a bunch of resources to help you make sure you stay on track. I’m a huge fan of the Omer Buddy, which sends you two text messages a day reminding you to count, and even tells you the number of days (when counting Omer you say, ‘there are three weeks and three days of the Omer' or whatever's apprpriate. It's by weeks and days). It costs seven bucks, but is awesome. Similarly, over at Torah.org they’re running a process called Project Genesis where they’ll e-mail you a reminder every day. And if you’re a Simpsons fan you’ll love Counting the Homer, a website that has Homer leading you through the seven weeks. There are month calendars, week calendars, and day by day options for your printing pleasure. D’oh! And if cell phones and e-mails aren’t your thing, you can always buy an old fashioned Omer counter, with wooden knobs and pretty text. Starting Tuesday night, get counting!