The Omer

Holidays Passover
The Omer


Adapted from the teachings of  the Rabbi by Yanki Tauber

49 days divide Passover from Shavuot.
but this seven-week period is not an ordinary one. It is actually a link that binds these two festivals together. Every one of these days is counted in orderly progression. On every one of these forty-nine nights, a Jew recites a blessing and then verbalizes the number of that day. This counting, called “Sefirat Ha’Omer ” (the Counting of the Omer), expresses a Jew’s eager anticipation of receiving the Torah on Shavuot, forty nine days after experiencing the liberation of Passover. This period is a time of personal refinement and introspection in preparation for receiving the Torah. “Each and every day the Torah should be as desirable to you as if you received it this very day at Mount Sinai”—Midrash Tanchuma, Ki Tavo 1

The mitzvot of the Torah are the means by which we sanctify our world: an object, a feeling, an occasion, become vehicles of connection to one’s Creator.

Mitzvot not only afford us the opportunity to fulfill G-d’s will (for which a Torah comprised of a single divine commandment would have sufficed), but also enable us to involve every aspect of our being in the endeavor. There are mitzvot which involve actions, and mitzvot which are fulfilled by refraining from action; mitzvot involving the mind, and mitzvot involving the heart; mitzvot pertaining to one’s home, diet, dress, family life, bereavement and business affairs. No nook or cranny of human life is without the potential to become something more, to serve a higher purpose.

The mitzvot are also distinguished by the various ways in which they intersect with our experience of time. There are perpetual mitzvot (e.g., awareness of G-d, loving one’s fellow), daily mitzvot (prayer, tefillin), seasonal mitzvot (sounding the shofar on Rosh HaShanah, eating matzah on Passover), and once-in-a-lifetime mitzvot (circumcision).  Each of these affects us in different ways: the more frequently occurring mitzvot become a fixture of our consciousness and an integral part of our daily life; the rarer mitzvot inspire a sense of specialty and uniqueness in their performance.

Best of Both Worlds

The Hebrew month of Iyar, whose 29 days fall somewhere in the months of April and May, is unique in that it combines both specialty and consistency in a single mitzvah.  The mitzvah is the commandment to “Count the Omer,” by which we annually re-experience our forefathers’ 49-day spiritual journey from the Exodus to Sinai.  Every evening, from the second night of Passover to the eve of Shavuot, we verbalize the day’s number in the count, after first reciting the blessing, “Blessed are You, G-d … Who has sanctified us with His commandments, and commanded us concerning the Counting of the Omer.”

As a mitzvah associated with a particular time of the year, the Counting of the Omer is accompanied by the anticipation and sense of occasion that is the hallmark of the seasonal mitzvah. At the same time, for a period spanning the latter 15 days of Nissan, all of Iyar’s 29 days, and the first five days of Sivan, this yearly event becomes a fixed part of our daily schedules.

So while the other months of the year serve as the background for their special days, the month of Iyar, whose each and every day is the date for a “seasonal” mitzvah, is its special days; while in other months these occasions are spiritual peaks surrounded by a plain of ordinariness, in Iyar, the unique becomes routine.