I recently received a lovely new Omer calendar, “A Journey Through the Wilderness,” in the mail from my dear friend Rabbi Yael Levy of Reconstructionist congregation Mishkan Shalom. I’ve practiced the ritual of Counting the Omer off and on over the years; her immensely creative new effort has inspired me to take it on again with renewed intention this year.
I’ll let Rabbi Yael’s own words describe this unique spiritual discipline:
The counting of the Omer is the 49-day period between Passover and Shavuot, when it is the practice to stand every night and, in the midst of opening and closing prayers, count each day.
This counting began as an agricultural ritual. Our ancestors would pray for an abundant spring harvest by waving a sheaf, an Omer, of barley toward the night sky. Over time, this agricultural rite was replaced by liturgy and the counting became the way to mark the Israelites’ journey from bondage in Egypt to revelation at Mt. Sinai.
For the Jewish mystics of the 16th and 17th centuries, the Counting of the Omer became a time of spiritual exploration and cleansing, a way for us to prepare our souls to receive the divine guidance that comes to us each year on Shavuot.
Counting the Omer is a 49-day mindfulness practice aimed at helping us pay attention to the movement of our lives, to notice the subtle shifts, the big changes, the yearnings, the strivings, the disappointments, the hopes and the fears. It is an opportunity for deep introspection, a call to notice our inclinations, our default responses, our reactions to shifting emotions and circumstances…
The mystical tradition teaches that these 49 days between Passover and Shavuot are divided into seven-week periods, with each week containing a specific spiritual quality. The qualities are by guided by seven of the ten sefirot, the Divine emanations through which, the mystics believed, God reveals Godself in the world.
Today, by the way, is the fifth day of the Omer, which corresponds to the daily sefirah of Hod within the weekly sefirah of Chesed. Rabbi Yael renders this formula “Presence Within Love.” As she instructs us, this is the day in which we contemplate upon:
Being where we are rather than where we think we should be or where we wish we could be.
Cultivating the capacity to be patient with ourselves and others, knowing that we are all doing the best we can in each moment.
If you are interested in delving deeper into this practice, here are some other Omer resources you might check out:
– Rabbi Rami Shapiro’s Omer Journal, which includes the eclectic wisdom of spiritual teachers such as The Ba’al Shem Tov, Franz Kafka, Rilke and Lao Tzu;
– Rabbi Jill Hammer’s “Omer Calendar of Biblical Women,” which thematically connects one Biblical woman to each day of the Omer;
– A calendar created by Pauline Frankenberg of the University of Manchester Centre for Jewish Studies, who painted illustrations depicting specific plants mentioned in the Bible for each day of the Omer;
– And finally, a must-have for every Omer enthusiast: the now-legendary Simpsons Omer counter known as “The Homer Calendar.”
Safe travels to Sinai…