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 Counting Up for the Omer   By Kayla Reisman

03/24/2021 03:54:06 PM

Mar24

“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, and you shall present a new meal offering to God (Leviticus 23:15-16).”

 

As many of you know, on the second night of Passover (this year, Sunday night March 28th), we begin the counting of the Omer, and we count every night for 49 days until Shavuot begins on Sunday May 16th (coincidentally also the last day of Mercaz Aliyah!) As we count, we can imagine ourselves as the Jews leaving Egypt and wandering in the desert, on our way to receive the Torah at Mt. Sinai, which we celebrate on Shavuot, 49 days later. It is traditional to use this time of counting as an opportunity to reflect on our own freedom from slavery, counting our blessings, and the things that count in our lives.

 

It’s interesting that for both Hanukkah and for the Omer, the sages chose for us to count “up” and add a candle or day each time, when in our culture, we often choose to count down to things we are looking forward to: birthdays, New Years, the last day of school, hugging grandma, etc. The rabbis explain this is because in matters of holiness, we should always ascend and never descend, “maalin bakodesh, ve’ein moridin.” In other words – it is always better to count up to something important than to count down to the inevitable loneliness of zero. It also gives us the opportunity to start something that we might continue after the official Omer counting ends… for example, in quarantine I started using DuoLingo everyday, and I’m on Day 275. What is something that you might want to start during the Omer that might continue even once it ends? Or something that you’ve started doing in quarantine that you will be continuing even once quarantine ends? For the students in our Religious School, even though school will end on the last day of the Omer, what will you do to continue your Jewish learning over the summer to continue to ascend in holiness? 

 

Two years ago, after attending a Passover Seder with my family, my husband, Andrew, was inspired to do more research on the Omer, which had never been his custom to count before. He liked the concept of the counting as a nightly ritual and decided to conclude each day of counting with the addition of reading of Shema before bed. This ritual stuck for us, and even once the Omer was over, we continued to say Shema before bed. Practicing his Hebrew reading every day improved Andrew’s decoding skills, and fostered interest in other Judaic learning and reading. At Simchat Torah 2019, Andrew added reading the parsha to his nightly ritual every week for a year, and at Simchat Torah 2020, when he’d finished every parsha, Andrew started reading a nightly section of Rambam.

 

Experts say that change doesn’t happen overnight, but dedicating time each day to a cause, hobby, or interest will help you reach long term goals. What short or long term goals will you commit to for these 49 days of the Omer? Maybe it’s practicing Hebrew for 5 minutes a day or saying Shema before bed each night after counting the Omer. Maybe it’s writing in a gratitude journal every day for 7 weeks. Maybe it’s going for a walk or exercising every morning before beginning work. Whatever it is, see if you can commit just for the time while we’re counting the Omer and see if you notice any changes in your abilities in that area after 7 weeks. In the spirit of “counting up,” I encourage you to view your selection to be something that elevates you over the course of the counting, rather than something that you countdown to finishing. Who knows? Next year you might be on Day 275 of that thing and have masterfully improved! 

 

For each of the upcoming weeks of the Omer, we will be posting a weekly “Blog B’Omer” with new themes, ideas, and insights related to the holidays that occur during this time and Kabbalistic Omer themes. We’ll be emailing them out and posting them on our social media pages. Feel free to contribute your own Omer thoughts in Blog or Vlog format, and we will be happy to post them on our social media as well! Happy counting!

 

Kayla Reisman

Director of Congregational Learning and Engagement

Saturday, July 31 2021 22 Av 5781