Tomorrow will mark the thirty-second day of S’firat HaOmer – the Counting of the Omer. Because the day begins at nightfall of the previous evening in Jewish tradition (there was evening, and there was morning… [Bereshit aleph/Genesis 1]), the Omer for tomorrow’s date is counted tonight after nightfall. The 49-day “Counting of the Omer” recalls the children of Israel’s seven week trek in which they traveled from the site of the crossing of the Yam Suf, to the foot of Har Sinai. Each evening a special blessing is recited, and the days and weeks that have passed since the Omer are counted culminating in the 50th day which is Shavuot; which celebrates the reception by the Hebrews, of the Torah at Har Sinai.
The Counting of the Omer is observed by Jews worldwide in response to a Divine command found in both Vayikra/Leviticus and in D’varim/Deuteronomy in which the children of Israel receive the obligation to count the days from Passover to Shavu’ot.
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 L-RD, your G-d -Deuteronomy 16:9-10
An omer is a unit of measure, specified within the Torah. On the second day of Passover when the Beit HaMiqdash/Temple stood, an omer of barley was cut and brought to the Beit HaMiqdash as an offering. This offering of barley grain was referred to as the Omer. The counting of the omer begins on the second night of Passover, and Jews in the Diaspora (throughout the world outside of the borders of Israel) generally integrate this counting into the second seder.
One stands when counting the omer, and begins by reciting the following blessing:
Barukh ata [[HASHEM]] Eloqeinu Melekh ha’Olam asher kid’shanu b’mitzvotav v’tizivanu al sefirat ha’omer.
Blessed are you, Hashem our G-d, Sovereign of the Universe, who has sanctified us with your commandments and commanded us to count the omer.
After the blessing, one recites the daily count. For example, on the first day one would say:
Hayom yom echad la’omer
Today is the first day of the omer.
After the first six days, one also includes the number of weeks that one has counted. For example:
Hayom sh’losha asar yom, she’hem shavuah echad v’shisha yamim la’omer
Today is 13 days, which is one week and six days of the omer
The inclusion of both the day and the week stems from a rabbinic argument about whether the Torah commands counting days or weeks. In one text the command is, “you shall count 50 days;” in the other text, it instructs B’nei Yisrael to “count. . . seven complete weeks.” The compromise which is part of the ritual, is to count both the days and the weeks. It is customary to precede the counting of the Omer with a meditation which states one’s intention to fulfill the commandment:
Hineni muchan um’zuman l’kayem mitzvat aseh shel s’firat ha’omer k’mo shekatuv baTorah: Us’fartem lakhem mimaharat hashabbat miyom havi’echem et omer hat’nufa, sheva shabbatot t’mimot tihiyenah. Ad mimaharat hashabbat hash’vi’it tisp’ru chamishim yom.
Behold, I am ready and prepared to fulfill the mitzvah of counting the omer, as it says in the Torah: You shall count from the eve of the second day of Pesach, when an omer of grain is to be brought as an offering, seven complete weeks. The day after the seventh week of your counting will make fifty days.
Sacred tradition explains that there are seven “Divine Attributes” known as Sefirot which G-d makes use of in order to relate to our existence: Chesed, Gevurah, Tiferet, Netzach, Hod, Yesod and Malchut (“Love”, “Strength”, “Beauty”, “Victory”, “Splendor”, “Foundation” and “Sovereignty”). In the human being, created in the “image of G-d,” the seven Sefirot are mirrored in the seven “emotional attributes” of the human soul: Kindness, Restraint, Harmony, Ambition, Humility, Connection and Receptiveness. Each of the seven attributes contain elements of all of the other attributes such as; “Kindness in Kindness”, “Restraint in Kindness”, “Harmony in Kindness”, and so on, which adds up to a total of forty-nine traits.
Today in Jewish History
• The Manna (1313 BCE)
Manna, which sustained the Children of Israel during their 40 years of wandering through the desert, began to fall on the 16th of Iyar of the year 2448 from creation, one month after the Exodus.
• Romans Razed Jerusalem Wall (70CE)
In the year 70 of the Common Era, Titus and the Roman army laid siege upon Jerusalem, greatly weakening its defenders. On the 16th of Iyar, the Romans razed the middle wall of Jerusalem. The city was later burned, its inhabitants massacred, and the Temple destroyed on the 9th of Av.
• “Nuremberg Laws” Passed in Hungary (1939)
The Nazi Nuremberg Laws, depriving Jews the rights citizenship, were passed by the government of Nazi Germany in 1935. In 1939, on the 16th of Iyar, the laws went into effect in Nazi-allied Hungary.
• Dachau Liberated (1945)
Dachau was the first Nazi concentration camp and the model for the other concentration camps. During the war, an estimated 200,000 Jews were housed in Dachau. It is believed that more than 30,000 were killed and that further tens of thousands died due to the conditions and spread of disease in the camp. The camp was freed by the 45th Infantry Division of the U.S. Seventh Army on the 16th of Iyar, 1945.
• Witold Pilecki Executed (1948)
On this day in 1948, Witold Pilecki was executed by the Communist Polish government after a show trial where he was found guilty of espionage. A leader of the Polish resistance, he volunteered to be imprisoned in Auschwitz, where he remained from 1940 to 1943. During that time, he was able to smuggle out information on the mass killings and other atrocities that the Germans were committing. They were the first comprehensive reports of the Nazi killing machine to reach the West.
SOURCES / FURTHER SUGGESTED READING:
May the Merciful One restore unto us the service of the Bet Hamikdash to its place, speedily in our days; Amen, Selah. For the Choirmaster; a song with instrumental music; a Psalm. May God be gracious to us and bless us; may He make His countenance shine upon us forever; that Your way be known on earth, Your salvation among all nations.
A guide to the ritual that occurs between Passover and Shavuot. The omer refers to the 49-day period between the second night of Passover (Pesach) and the holiday of Shavuot. This period marks the beginning of the barley harvest when, in ancient times, Jews would bring the first sheaves to the Temple as a means of thanking God for the harvest.
Learn about the counting of the omer, a Jewish observance counting the days between the festivals of Pesach (Passover) and Shavu’ot.
This (“commandment”) derives from the Torah commandment to count forty-nine days beginning from the day on which the Omer, a sacrifice containing an -measure of barley, was offered in the Temple in Jerusalem, up until the day before an offering of wheat was brought to the Temple on Shavuot.