Counting the Omer

April 12, 2012

The rhythms of our ancestors'lives were set by the agricultural cycles and the accompanying rituals performed for each season at the Temple in Jerusalem. Sfirat Ha'omer, the counting of the omer, was one of the most carefully observed of these rituals. The priests would offer a measure of harvested crop, or omer, on the second day of Passover. All of Israel would then begin counting the days between Passover and Shavuot, forty-nine days in all. Although we no longer have the Temple, we still count. Counting the days from the sea-crossing freedom of Passover to the Torah-receiving commitment of Shavuot—the "counting the omer" —guides us in reaffirming that each day we progress, clarify, and act with our ultimate goals in mind.
Hin'ni mukhan u'm'zuman l'kayeim mitzvat asei shel sfirat

I am ready to fulfill the mitzvah of counting the omer

As I count each day between Passover and Shavuot, may I remain awake to the full potential and special texture of each passing moment. As I count from one moment to the next, may I be helped to act in light of that wakefulness, appreciating my freedom from, and my commitment to.
Hin'ni mukhan u'm'zuman l'kayeim mitzvat asei shel sfirat ha'omer.
I am ready to fulfill the mitzvah of counting the omer.

Beginning on the second night of Passover, toward the end of the seder, recite the blessing for counting the omer and announce that day's count (remember, the Jewish "day" begins the evening before). On the forty-eight subsequent days, find an appropriate (and easily remembered!) moment to count that day's omer—as you kiss your children good night, or when you set out your clothes for the next day. Most Jewish calendars will have the day's count as a reminder. As you count each subsequent evening, focus on how you change as you move from awareness (Passover) to action(Shavuot).


Barukh atah Adonai eloheinu melekh ha'olam asher kidshanu b'mitzvotav v'tzivanu al sfirat ha'omer.
Blessed are You, Eternal God, Ruler of the Universe, whose mitzvot teach us holiness and who commands us to count the omer.

You shall count from the eve of the second day of Passover, when an omer of grain is to be brought as an offering, seven complete weeks.

(Leviticus 23:15)

The omer is the amount of ground and sifted barley offered as a sacrifice. The omer is thus neither time, nor barley, but a measurement. Why do we count a measurement? In Exodus 16:16, we learn that when the Israelites were in the desert they each received lifegiving manna according to their need: one omer per person—no more, no less. Overzealous gatherers discovered that any manna in excess of an omer spoiled before it could be eaten. Fastidious gatherers, on the other hand, never came up short. An omer is thus the symbol of the precise amount to sustain someone. Maybe the period of the omer is for figuring out what we need to sustain us and how much. The days of the omer are not about counting time, but weighing an omer's worth of what counts.

(Dan Judson, Sh'ma)

From The Book of Jewish Sacred Practices: Clal’s Guide to Everyday & Holiday Rituals & Blessings, Edited by Rabbi Irwin Kula and Vanessa L. Ochs, Ph.D., Jewish Lights, 2001