The Counting of the Omer
We begin counting the days towards the next festival, Shavuot.
Sefirat HaOmer – Counting the Omer The departure of the Jews from Egypt was only the beginning of our redemption. The Exodus actually culminated in the giving of the Torah at Mount Sinai, which is commemorated by the holiday of Shavuot. This connection is clearly marked through the Sefirat HaOmer, the counting of the Omer.
I. Leviticus 23:15 instructs us to count the 49 days immediately following the first night of Passover. Seven weeks (49 days) after Passover is the holiday of Shavuot.
A. Every night, starting with the night of the second Seder, a blessing is said and the new day is counted.
1. The blessing is as follows:
Baruch atah Ado-nai, Ehlo-haynu melech Ha-olam, asher kideshanu b’mitzvotav v’tzeevanu al s’feerat ha’omer.
Blessed are you L-rd, our G-d ruler of the world, who sanctified us through His commandments and commanded us, regarding the counting of the Omer.
a. “Omer” refers to the barley offering that was brought to the Temple on Passover.
2. The blessing is followed by the actual counting of the day. For example: “Today is day one of the Omer”….”Today is eight days, which are one week and one day, of the Omer.”
3. The official counting of the day is followed by a prayer for the restoration of the Temple: “The Compassionate One! May He return for us the service of the Temple to its place, speedily in our days. Amen, Selah!”
B. If a person misses the counting of a complete day, counting may be continued on subsequent nights, however, the blessing is no longer recited.
II. The Omer is a Period of Mourning
A. In the times of the Romans, the great Rabbi Akiva, one of Israel’s greatest sages, took a group of students with him into hiding so that they could continue to learn Torah, even though it was banned by Roman law. The students, each brilliant in his own right, argued amongst themselves. They stopped treating each other with respect and began showing off their Torah knowledge in order to “one-up” their fellows. As a punishment for this disunity and disrespect, the students all died during the period of Sefirat HaOmer. For this reason, 33 days of Sefirah are considered days of mourning.
1. Depending on custom, the first 33 days of Sefirah, or the last period of Sefirah, starting at the beginning of the month of Iyar, are days of mourning.
B. Restrictions of Sefirah: During the appropriate period of mourning, people refrain from:
1. Cutting hair
2. Buying new clothing
3. Going to live performances of musical entertainment
4. Getting Married