The period between Passover and Shavuot includes the strange ritual of the Counting of the Omer, in which, each day in ancient times, sheaves of barley were brought to the Temple at Jerusalem each day, for forty-nine days. The number forty-nine, of course, is seven complete cycles of seven, and seven - the number of days of creation, and in a week - is a Jewishly significant number that comes to symbolize perfection and wholeness.
But today, without a Temple, we don't bring barley anywhere. We just say a blessing and count - 'today is the sixth day of the counting of the omer', and we have fulfilled our obligation. It is strange. It feels a little hollow.
Much has been made of this by commentators. It is interesting that we count up to Shavuot - the holiday of the giving of the Torah - and not down. The kabbalists added specific meaning to each of the days, hooking it to one of the 10 divine 'sefirot' -emanations - of God, so that the first day is 'chesed she'be'chesed' - 'lovingkindness within lovingkindness', and the second day is 'gvurah she'be'chesed' - 'strength within lovingkindness', and so forth. And those and the many other interpretations elucidating the hidden meanings of the Omer are all very well and good.
However. Counting the Omer is great for the simple reason that it is simple. You say a blessing. You count. You are done. It allows for a person to connect backwards to a time in our history with a simple act that takes virtually no effort - no schlepping to shul or cleaning the house or fasting or buying an expensive ritual object.
The great gift of counting Omer is its simplicity, but also its relevancy to just a thin sliver of time. That day of the Omer comes and goes, and then we count again, and again. The great New Age spiritualist Ram Dass famously taught 'Be here now', that being present in the moment is critical to consciousness, meaning, and well being. Nothing is more 'be here now' in essence than the counting of the Omer, a ritual which simple says 'this moment right now matters. Let's be present for it.'
- Rabbi Mark Asher Goodman
Rabbi Mark Asher Goodman is the spiritual leader of Brith Sholom Jewish Center in Erie, PA. These are a collection of thoughts and writings since he joined the community in Erie. For more of his past writings, click here.