Counting of the Omer Posted by Sean Young on May 10, 2012 in Celebrations and Holidays, Cultural Awareness, Learning Hebrew, Uncategorized
Today’s Date: 18th of Iyyar, 5772 (י״ח באייר תשע״ב)
Holiday: 33rd Day of the Omer – ל״ג בעומר
If you’ve noticed on recent posts (and today’s), you’ll see I put “[number] day of the Omer”. What is this Omer, and why is counting it important?
Counting of the Omer (סְפִירָה הַעֹמֶר) is a verbal counting of each of the forty-nine days between the Jewish holidays of פֶּסַח (peh-sakh – Passover) and חַג הַשָּׁבוּעוֹת (hag ha-shah-voo-‘ot – Shavuot). This מִצְוָה (mits-vah – command, decree) derives from the Torah commandment to count forty-nine days beginning from the day on which the עֹמֶר (oh-mer – omer) (an omer- measure of barley is equivalent to 3.64 litres today) was offered in the Temple in Jerusalem, up until the day before an offering of wheat was brought to the Temple on חַג הַשָּׁבוּעוֹת (hag ha-shah-voo-‘ot – Shavuot). The סְפִירָה הַעֹמֶר (seh-feer-ah ha-oh-mer – counting of the omer) begins on the second day of פֶּסַח (peh-sakh – Passover) (the 16th of Nisan), and ends the day before the holiday of חַג הַשָּׁבוּעוֹת (hag ha-shah-voo-‘ot – Shavuot), the ‘fiftieth day.’
The commandment for סְפִירָה הַעֹמֶר (seh-feer-ah ha-oh-mer – counting of the omer) is recorded in Leviticus 23:15-16:
טו וּסְפַרְתֶּם לָכֶם, מִמָּחֳרַת הַשַּׁבָּת, מִיּוֹם הֲבִיאֲכֶם, אֶת-עֹמֶר הַתְּנוּפָה: שֶׁבַע שַׁבָּתוֹת, תְּמִימֹת תִּהְיֶינָה.
טז עַד מִמָּחֳרַת הַשַּׁבָּת הַשְּׁבִיעִת, תִּסְפְּרוּ חֲמִשִּׁים יוֹם; וְהִקְרַבְתֶּם מִנְחָה חֲדָשָׁה, לַיהוָה.
And you must count for yourselves from the day after the Sabbath, from the day of your bringing the omer of the wave offering, seven Sabbaths. They should prove to be complete.
To the day after the seventh Sabbath you should count, fifty days, and you must present a new grain offering to God.
Counting the Omer
As soon as it is definitely night (approximately thirty minutes after sundown), the one who is counting the Omer recites this blessing:
bar-ookh ah-tah ah-doh-nai eh-lo-he-noo mehl-ekh ha-o-lahm ah-sher kid-shah-noo be-mits-vo-tahv ve-tsee-vah-noo ahl s’-feer-at ha-omer
(“Blessed are You, Lord our God, King of the Universe, Who has sanctified us with His commandments and commanded us to count the Omer.”)
Then he or she states the Omer-count in terms of both total days and weeks and days. For example, as I write this post, it is the 33rd day of the count and would be stated thus:
ha-yohm she-loh-shah vesh-lo-sheem yom sheh-hem ahr-bah-‘ah sha-voo-‘ot vah-kha-meesh-ah yah-meem la-‘omer.
Today is thirty-three days, which is four weeks and five days of the Omer.
According to the הֲלָכָה (hah-lah-kha – Halakha) – the collective body of Jewish religious law, including Biblical law and later Talmudic and Rabbinic law, as well as customs and traditions, a person may only recite the blessing while it is still night. If he or she remembers the count the next morning or afternoon, the count may still be made, but without a blessing. If one forgets to count a day altogether, he or she may continue to count succeeding days, but without a blessing.
Today is May 10th 2012, the 33rd day of the counting of the omer. It is also a celebration of ל״ג בעומר (lahg be-oh-mer – Lag b’Omer). The origins of the holiday begin with the time of Rabbi Akiva. The תַּלְמוּד (tahl-mood – Talmud) at Yevamot 62:2 states that 24,000 of Rabbi Akiva’s students died from a mysterious plague. The תַּלְמוּד (tahl-mood) says that this was because they did not show proper respect to one another. ל״ג בעומר (lahg be-oh-mer) is celebrated as the traditional day that this plague ended.
ל״ג בעומר (lahg be-oh-mer) is a time of dancing and singing. Families go on picnics and outings. Children go out to the fields with their teachers with bows and rubber-tipped arrows. All of the rules of the Omer period are suspended on ל״ג בעומר (lahg be-oh-mer) and it is a school holiday in Israel. It’s also a time when children get their first haircut.
On the eve of ל״ג בעומר (lahg be-oh-mer) huge bonfires are lit. This is a reminder when there was a time rules set down by others told the Jews that they could not mark the new month by lighting bonfires and could not worship God. Simon Bar Kochba led this revolt against tyranny and the bonfire lighting was reinstituted.