Counting Up to Sinai: The Omer

Do you ever feel so focused on what is to come, that you miss what is before you?  When my family joins together for a meal, we laugh, we share, and we usually spend some time… talking about the next meal.  This readiness to discuss the next meal grows, not only from a stereotypically Jewish obsession with food; but also from a tendency to be in the next moment as much as we are in the present moment.  In its deep wisdom, Judaism does connect us to the lessons of the past and the hopes for the future, but Judaism also roots us firmly in the present.

In this present moment in Jewish time, we enter the season that begins with the second day of the festival of Pesach and continues until the festival of Shavuot.  This period is called the Omer, a term describing the measure of grain connected with the harvest of our agricultural biblical roots.  During this period of the Omer, there is a Jewish tradition to count, day by day, as a way to anticipate the revelation of Torah at Mount Sinai, which Shavuot celebrates.

The process of the countdown—actually, the count-up– turns us back to the hopeful story of Pesach and the message of liberation from narrow straits.  And it turns us forward to the story of the giving of the law at Sinai and the message of discovery of greater purpose.  If, before redemption we were servants to the Pharaoh, after revelation we are servants to God (or call it divine spirit, greater purpose, that which is larger than ourselves, many descriptions work here).

Even as we turn to the past and to the future, the counting, day by day, of the Omer, helps to root us in the present.  Jewish tradition teaches us to count each day and to recite a blessing for the counting.  Jewish mystical tradition develops the counting practice with weekly themes involving the Kabbalistic s’firot, or, divine attributes.  These weekly attributes serve as points of focus for our blessing practice.  The attributes are: Chesed (loving-kindness), Gevurah (might), Tiferet (beauty), Netzach (victory), Hod (glory), Yesod (intimacy), and Malchut (majesty).

Jewish Mysticism and Hasidism scholar Eitan Fishbane suggests the Omer offers a more powerful version of the experience that Jews undergo each week.  The six weekdays represent ordinary time and ordinary consciousness, and Shabbat represents a time of transformation into purity and heightened holiness and spiritual consciousness.  The 49 days of the Omer, the seven times seven, is an intensified process.

How can each day of the Omer become a moment in the journey from redemption—freedom, to revelation—freedom for a purpose?  How can we raise our consciousness as we count up to Sinai?  Our congregation will offer several paths for anyone who would like to experiment with a new Omer practice.  First, we plan to post a daily meditation on the blog, and share it on our Facebook page.  To visit the blog, simple go to the website and click the Blog link.  Second, at our weekly pre-Shabbat meditation on Fridays at 5:00 pm, our teaching will be inspired by the Omer in general or by the weekly Kabbalistic attribute for the Omer counting.  Third, in both venues, we will provide information about visiting the Refrom Movement’s website where you can refer to the traditional blessing.

May our Pesach be sweet and meaningful, and our journey to Shavuot be conscious-raising.