The Omer period:Counting the days between Pesakh and Shavuot

For our ancestors, the fifty days which begin during Pesakh were an anxious time of wondering whether first the barley crop and then spring wheat would flourish. For us today, our tradition has developed a spiritual perspective on the uncertainty of harvest: whether we will be able to receive the harvest of Torah, as we stumble our way toward Sinai.

In these seven weeks of “Counting the Omer” between the Seder and Mt. Sinai, we consider how risky is our abundance, and perhaps learn how to celebrate the weave of sun, seed, soil, and rain; how it meshes with human work, and our own joyful journey in community. As we count each day, we learn how our interconnectedness expresses the deepest Source of Being. Perhaps we gain some insight into how the rules and patterns of a sacred community of earth and earthling (Arthur Waskow’s felicitous phrase) live together.

In Kabbalistic tradition, the seven weeks were understood to invoke seven manifestations of God, each called a Sefirah, together referred to as the Sefirot. Following are only one indication of how the sefirot are imaged:

Hesed – overflowing loving kindness

Gevurah – restrictive judgment

Tiferet – compassion

Netzakh – endurance

Hod – beauty

Yesod – foundation

Malkhut – Ingathering
of all the qualities

A practice for the Seven Weeks of the Omer Counting:

Take time each day for a consideration of these sefirot. Each day of one week is devoted to one sefirah, and how it interacts with, and is balanced by, the other sefirot. Every aspect of one’s daily acts and words can become part of a more mindful, unified and coherent practice with this kind of meditation:

Hesed: reaching out to those who are in need or in pain.

Gevurah: judgment of one’s acts. (When is outreach self-indulgent?)

Tiferet: What is the balance of one’s impulses toward hesed and gevurah?

Netzakh: considering one’s ability to endure, both alone and with one’s communities of meaning.

Hod: how do we learn to seek beauty in all things, even hard work and disappointments?

Yesod: what is the true foundation of one’s acts, words, and beliefs? Is it study enough? What reinforcement might be needed?

Malkhut: what does integration look like in a life? What attributes of the seven sefirot are out of balance, either too weak or too strong?

For more meditations on Sefirot counting during the Omer period, please see the Shir Tikvah siddur. To download an information sheet about this subject, click The Counting of the Omer.

Lag b’Omer: What’s with those bows and arrows?

The minor Jewish holiday of Lag B’Omer (“the 33rd of the Omer”) refers to the 33rd day of the Counting of the Omer period which spans the time between Pesakh and Shavuot. Originally an expression of the importance of the spring harvest which takes place in Israel at this time, the counting quickly took on a theological interpretation – we are counting the days, quite excitedly! between leaving Egypt and arriving at Mt. Sinai, where our people entered into our covenant with God.

The historical aspect of this time period is intriguing: it is considered a time of semi-mourning. Several explanations for this all focus upon the hardships our people suffered under Roman occupation. There is a legend about the famous Rabbi Akiva which indicates that he was also actually a leader in the Bar Kokhba uprising, the third and most bloody, against Rome. The mourning aspect of the 50 days of the Omer are thus attributable to that.

Lag B’Omer, the 33rd day of the Counting of the Omer, has long been observed as a holiday, according to legend because Akiba’s students who were dying of a plague stopped dying on that day. According to the realpolitik interpretation, on that day there was a cessation in battle, or perhaps a lifting of a Roman siege against Akiva’s forces. We’re not sure. But we have inherited this day as a time to celebrate the fact that the earth is warming up and we can play outdoors again. In Israel we light bonfires and the grilling season officially opens! In Portland, it may be too cold to grill, but our larger Jewish community usually organizes several outdoor observances of different sorts.