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Why Do We Count the Omer?

Why Do We Count the Omer?

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From the second night of Passover until the day before the holiday of Shavuot, the Jewish people engage in an unique mitzvah called Sefirat HaOmer (counting of the Omer). The Torah commands us that during this time each year we count seven complete weeks, for a total of 49 days. At the end of the seven-week period we celebrate Shavuot, which means “weeks.”

This is considered a mitzvah, so the count, which takes place each night, is preceded by a blessing. However, we may recite the blessing only if we have not missed a single day’s counting. If we have omitted the counting even one night during that stretch (and did not make it up during the daytime without reciting the blessing), we may no longer recite the blessing, but instead must listen as a friend says the blessing and then do the counting.

During the times of the Holy Temple, at the beginning of the Omer count and on the following holiday of Shavuot, special grain offerings were brought. These offerings were waved in different directions, similar to how the lulav is waved during the holiday of Sukkot, to demonstrate G‑d Almighty’s all-encompassing presence.

Why do we count these days? We learn several reasons. The foremost is that the count demonstrates our thrill for the impending occasion of receiving the Torah, celebrated on Shavuot. Just as a child often counts the days until the end of school or an upcoming family vacation, we count the days to show our excitement at again receiving the Torah (as we do in fact receive the Torah in a renewed sense every year).

We also learn that this period is meant to spiritually prepare and refine ourselves. When the Jewish people were in Egypt nearly 3,400 years ago, they had assimilated many of the immoral ways of the Egyptian people. The Jews had sunk to an unprecedented level of spiritual defilement, and were on the brink of destruction. At the last possible moment, the children of Israel were miraculously redeemed. They underwent a spiritual rebirth and quickly ascended to the holiest collective state they had ever reached. They were so holy, in fact, that they were compared to angels when they stood at the foot of Mt. Sinai to receive the Torah.

It was during that 49-day period that they underwent such a radical transformation. From the lowest lows to the highest heights in just seven weeks!

The commandments of the Torah are not meant merely as our history, but instead represent on ongoing life lesson for every Jew. We view the Torah as freshly received every day of our lives, and approach it and its commandments with appropriate vigor.

So too must we digest the lesson of the counting of the Omer. It is specifically during this time that we strive to grow and mature in our spiritual state. The Torah does not allow us to become satisfied with our current level of spirituality. Instead it tells us to set high goals for ourselves, and then methodically strive to reach that goal.

The growth that occurs during this time is akin to a marathon. We pace ourselves and seek to improve day by day until we reach the day that we again receive the Torah. In this process, we look deep within ourselves and work on all of our negative attributes. If we are challenged in the realm of acts of kindness, we go out of our way to do more charitable works. If we are lacking in the area of justice, we hold ourselves to the highest possible standards and are exacting and demanding in our personal behavior and habits. And so it goes for all of our traits.

Rabbi Yeruchem Eilfort is director of Chabad at La Costa, California, and welcomes readers' comments and questions.
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Anonymous Michigan, USA August 22, 2017

We count the omer because the old wheat was removed at Passover, and the new wheat won't be ready in the fields until 50 days from the omer presentation at the Temple. For fifty days we're waiting for wheat for our selves and our families, and anticipating Hashem's wonderful Providence in the counting process. Reply

Hardly a Beinoni Hollywood, Florida May 1, 2015

Why Do We Count the Omer? In his Opus Magnum, the LEVUSH (Rabbi Mordechai Yoffe/Jaffe; 1530 -1612), points out, that the 49 days we count from the 2nd day of Pesach, until Shavuot are akin to one who is promised a precious gift at the end of a given time frame. With impatience he counts every sunset; knowing that he is thus getting closer to that day. So we too, bless and thank G-D nightly, with the knowledge, that with each passing day we are approaching the joyous day that we received the Torah; the ultimate purpose of Egyptian redemption. The Levush adds it is for this reason, that we do not recite the blessing of "Shehechiyonu" when counting the Omer; because this benediction commemorates a Day of Celebration; which has yet to come; namely, Shavuot. And; the Days of the Omer, are not days of joy. Reply

Israel Texas April 28, 2015

I would like to know what are the defies that we count in English like tiferet netzach Guevara and so on translated into English so I can know what am I saying. Just saying I'm new to the counting. I really enjoy what I'm doing here, and thank the Eternal one Blessed be His name for you Chabad. Reply

Anonymous USA April 7, 2015

Re:Did we realy sink to the depths you describe Adding to this question, if this was a "height of spiritual transformation" as described, and I like the concept of spiritual growth form the exodus to Mt Sinai, but then how is the golden calf explained from such enlightenment? Not all were enlightened, but please enlightened me (and others) who are interested in learning more.
Thank you.
Tuvia Reply

Anonymous April 3, 2015

Great synopsis! Thanks for posting this! Reply

jack forman San Diego April 27, 2014

Who Made Omer Offering? The barley offering was brought to the Temple by each person or family and a portion of it (one-tenth of an ephah) was given to the Priests (Kohanim) who mixed it with olive oil and frankencense and waved it. After the ceremony, some of it was burned and the rest of it was eaten by the Kohanim. Reply

Deborah Atoka April 27, 2014

Special Grain Offerings Did each family bring an omer of grain each day or did the priests offer one omer of grain each day for the nation? Reply

jack forman San Diego April 20, 2014

Count Up, Not Down In response to the person who asked why we count up, not down, the reason I think is because only by improving ourselves each day between the exodus to freedom on Pesach and receiving the Torah on Shavuot do we merit receiving the Torah. We don't count each day to blast off at the end of the count; we count each day to be fully tuned in at the end of the count. Reply

Erin USA April 18, 2014

Thank you Rabbi Eilfort What a wonderful discussion of the Truth, and I think it's wonderful to have such guided periods of reflection :)) Reply

ken Feinstein milton, fl June 7, 2011

Did we realy sink to the depths you describe The Jews had sunk to an unprecedented level of spiritual defilement and were on the brink of destruction. At the last possible moment the Children of Israel were miraculously redeemed. They underwent a spiritual rebirth and quickly ascended to the holiest collective state they had ever reached. They were so holy, in fact, that they were compared to angels when they stood at the foot of Mt. Sinai to receive the Torah.

It was during that 49-day period that they underwent such a radical transformation. From the lowest lows to the highest heights in just seven weeks!

How can you back up this comment? Reply

Vince Lake Arrowhead, Ca. April 27, 2011

Which Shabbat ? Do we start the day after Passover or after the weekly shabbat.I started after Passover, but I am being told I should have waited until after the weekly shabbat. Reply

Anonymous Johannesburg, RSA April 4, 2011

Omer count I do not feel seven emanations today, naither theirs 49 combinations, but I know that there are 49 obstacles to overcome to loving you all endlessly. So shall we start? Reply

Anonymous Holliswood, NY/USA March 25, 2010

Sefirat Ha'Omer Why do we count the numbers up from 1 to 49 as opposed to counting down from 49 to 1? Reply

Thalia Capitol Heights, MD April 23, 2009

G-d's elect thank you for a wonderful post.

I had forgotten that the Omer existed.

I had forgotten what the prophets put down as defining that Jews and those that embrace their heritage are in fact God's elect people.

So many times people try to interpret the Bible and leave out a worthy prophet. But I know that my blood born and inherent right is no simpler than to be God's chosen people. Reply

Anne Lanzarone Accord, NY April 9, 2009

Counting of the Omer Thank you for such an informative article regarding the Counting of the Omer. It demonstrates once again, how Judaism takes nothing for granted. Thank G-d for this opportunity of reflection and refinement. If the whole world responded to this mitvah we would be in a much better place! Reply

Rabbi Eilfort Carlsbad, CA May 15, 2008

Re Really Counting In these times we are counting the Days, so I am not sure counting anything like a bundle of barley would be appropriate (at least not with a bracha). But thanks for asking! Reply

Anonymous CA May 15, 2008

Can we really count? After reading your article and researching a little, I came up with an odd question... Is an Omer typically counted physically or just figuratively? If the Omer is only counted figuratively, can we count sheafs of barley as well? I think it would be fun to count something in a container as a reminder.
Thank you! Reply

Menachem Posner, Chabad.org April 30, 2008

RE: When was the barley brought to the Temple? The Omer was brought on the second day of Passover.
It is called the counting of the Omer because we count from the day when an Omer of barley was brought as an offering at the temple. Reply

Moshe Vellvill dallas, tx April 23, 2008

When was the barley brought to the Temple? Was it brought on 1st or 2nd day of Pesach? Why is it called counting "the Omer/bushel"? Shouldn't it be counting "the days/weeks"? Reply

~Ann Richmond, VA May 6, 2007

Omer: What it is Thank you so much for this article! I had never heard of the Omer, yet I had gotten an e-mail form Chbad.org mentioning it. Naturally, I was curious. What a great thing... and a great way... to celebrate. Reply

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