Tonight at our second-night seders we'll begin the tradition of Counting the Omer. "Omer" means measures. When the Temple still stood, it was customary to bring harvest offerings three times a year, at Sukkot, Pesach, and Shavuot. The tradition of counting the Omer dates to those days. We would count the days between the Pesach spring harvest of early wheat and the Shavuot summer harvest of new barley, and then offer a measure of that grain in thanks to our Source.
Today most of us see the counting of the Omer through a different lens. Instead of the agricultural reason, we focus instead on the idea that Shavuot is the anniversary of the revelation of Torah at Sinai. At Pesach we celebrate our liberation; at Shavuot we celebrate our entering-into-covenant with God. Freedom alone is not enough. The real meaning of our liberation is that we become free to enter into relationship with the Holy One of Blessing. We count the 49 days between Peach and Shavuot in growing excitement and anticipation, knowing that on the 50th day, the Torah is coming!
When I was in Jerusalem shortly before Pesach, I saw early spring grain growing wild on a patch of unbuilt land near Emek Refaim and marveled at that tangible evidence of how our festival calendar is rooted in the natural rhythms and cycles of the Near East -- both ancient and modern. But even for those of us who live far away from the Mediterranean, and those of us who've never grown a stalk of wheat or barley in our lives, the Omer period can be a fertile and fruitful one. I am quite attached to the kabbalistic custom of associating each week (and each day of each week) with one of seven middot, divine qualities in which we as God's children partake. The first week is the week of chesed, lovingkindness; the second week, gevurah, boundaried-strength; the third week is tiferet, harmony and balance; the fourth, netzach, endurance; the fifth week is hod, splendor and humility (there's a koan for you, eh?); the sixth is yesod, foundation and generations; the seventh is malkhut, sovereignty and nobility. And within each week, there is one day for each quality, so that over the course of the seven weeks, we have the opportunity to closely examine ourselves through the 49 different lenses of these qualities as they combine in us.
If you're looking for a reminder to engage in the daily Omer count, along with a sweet contemplative or mystical teaching for each day, Rabbi Yael Levy at Mishkan Shalom sends one out every day. You can sign up here: Count the Omer with Mishkan Shalom. There's also a compilation of Omer resources at Kol ALEPH, the official blog of ALEPH: the Alliance for Jewish Renewal.
Wishing you a meaningful journey through the Omer!
Photo source: my photostream. (Taken in Jerusalem a few weeks ago.)