The uniqueness of the Jewish people goes beyond simple description, but rather a group that is defined by a religious lifestyle made up of a series of laws. These Laws, commonly known as Mitzvot, convey how Hashem wants the Israelite to relate with Him, the relationship between men and his fellow, as well as regulations regarding animals and plants around us. Practicing and devoted Jews, irrespective of their global location strive to observe the mitzvot as best they can. To perform a mitzvah accordingly, one must always remember to do it, and this entails a lot of studying of the Torah to fully understand what is required at any point in time.
Have you ever wondered why studying the laws has a top priority in Judaism? Or the reason it is advised that Jews engage themselves in Torah discussion whenever an opportunity presents itself in any gathering? The answer isn’t far-fetched on account of the “Pirkei Avos,” which stated that he who does not increase (his Torah learning) decreases it eventually. From the 613 Laws contained in the Torah, the Sages and Rabbis have been able to interpret and expand them to cover all aspects of life in our fast-changing world.
Learning the ethics of Jewish laws makes one knowledgeable. And through practice, a person can gain perfection to elevate the level of spirituality. By teaching our children and children’s children, we make the Jewish tradition alive from one generation to the other. Just as commanded by the Elokim of Israel- Shabbat keeping, the festivals, and other ordinances shall remain a perpetual covenant and a sign between Him and Israel, His first-born child.
The Countdown To The Feast Of Shavuot
Now that Pesach has gone, the next major feast coming up is the Shavuot, which will be followed by Rosh Hashana. Each festival in the Jewish calendar signifies the remembrance of historic events in the lives of our ancestors or the beginning of a new season. Just as Passover reminds us of the exodus out of Egypt, Shavuot commemorates the giving of the Torah at Mount Sinai. Without the Torah, there would be no Israel today. And without Israel, there would be no need for the Torah. Without the Torah, the world probably would be different from the way Hashem wanted man to behave.
Shavuot is that time in the year when Jews celebrate the giving of the Torah by G-d through the prophet Moshe. Interestingly, this happened exactly 49 days counting from the second day of Passover. Just as the Catholic Christians observe 40 days lent before Easter, and the Muslims fast for 40 days before the Salah- so do Jews strictly observe a 49 days countdown to Shavuot.
Counting The Omer
The 49 days counting period from the second day of the Passover to Shavuot is known as the “counting of the Omer.” Usually, the second day of Pesach is the day the Omer-offering of new barley used to be brought into the Temple. From that day, the counting begins, ending on the 49th day, and the Shavuot festival is celebrated on the 50th day. In the real sense, this 7 weeks duration was the time it took our ancestors to prepare themselves spiritually to be able to receive the Torah at Mount Sinai. To this day, Jews subject themselves to this spiritual preparatory process as the countdown to the Omer progresses through these seven weeks.
8 Important Things To Know About Counting The Omer
The seven weeks counting has more of a spiritual dimension and consciousness ought to be applied for one to truly achieve the blessings that come with this time-bound ritual. From the Kabbalistic point of view, the 7 weeks counting takes a person through seven levels of sefirot, helping the individual to tap from the energies contained at each point, as we consciously prepare our minds to receive the light from the Torah on Shavuot.
To put up this post, it’s my honor to consult and co-write with moreh Eben Cohen, a kabbalistic student and Torah instructor, who has ample knowledge about the sefirot and has authored a book on it that was published in 2010.
#Number- One: What Is Omer Count?
For us to understand what Omer count is, we would like to start the explanation with the answer to the question: What is Omer? The word ‘OMER’ – עמר according to the Hebrew dictionary: is a Hebrew word for the measurement of dry products such as corn, or wheat and the Omer is the tenth part of an epha.
The second explanation is that: The word Omer, meaning “sheaf”, is a dry measurement of grain which was originally brought as an offering to the Temple in anticipation of the new barley harvest
It is presented as a wave offering in the Temple on the 16th day of Nissan, which is the second day of Pesach.
WHAT IS OMER COUNT?
Omer count is the counting of seven weeks that commences on the first night after the Omer offering have been brought into the Temple on the second day of Pesach. The counting of these seven weeks is called Omer count as it is written; “You are to count from (to) morrow of the rest day, from the day you brought the Omer offering that is waved, they are to be seven complete weeks. (See Torah – Parashat “Emor”; Vayikra 23:15.)
The count is named after the Omer offering ritual, measuring two tenth of choice flour. That count measure which was performed in the Temple on the sixteenth day of the month of Nissan (Abib) is called Omer. From that day till seven complete weeks, every count is Omer count.
#Number- Two: The Significance Of The Omer
To count the Omer is a mitzvah in the Torah which instructed that every Israelite should count the Omer. The significance is that the souls of the people of Israel be cleansed of their contamination. It was a command from Hashem to Moshe our teacher that we should count the Omer as it is written; “You commanded us through Moshe, Your servant, to count the Omer count to cleanse us from our encrustations of evil and our contamination.” From this pesuk, we learnt that the importance of the Omer count was to cleanse us from our encrustations of evil and contamination.
WHY DO WE COUNT OMER?
We count Omer because it is a mitzvah from Hashem as it is written; ” You are to count from the morrow of the rest day, from the day you brought the Omer offering that is waved, there are to be seven complete weeks until the morrow of the seventh week you are to count fifty days, and the offer a new meal offering to Hashem. It is Hashem Who gave this order to sacrifice and to mark these days by counting them.
#Number- Three: When Is Omer Counted?
We have proof the counting of Omer is scriptural, but exactly when do we begin the count? Omer is usually counted at night as the sages ruled. Omer count connects us from Passover to Shavuot. While Passover is a big holiday of celebration of freedom, the Rabbis taught that the giving of the Torah (זמן מתן תורתינו -Z’man matan torateinu) at Sinai was on Shavuot.
This illustrates to us that freedom without responsibility is incomplete and unreal. So by counting the Omer we remind ourselves that the process is not yet finished until Shavout, the harvest of barley. Another good reason for Omer count is based on self-correction and development. The counting prepares us to receive the Torah, as we work to become better persons in life. The Kabbalists point out that the Omer is counted all through the seven days for seven weeks, and they match them with the seven sefirot through which Hashem interacts with the world. Each of the seven days within those weeks are matched with the sefirot, and also, those various sefirot provide an opportunity for self-improvement as we continue to recite and meditate on those highly spiritual tools.
Another tradition is to read and study Pirkei Avot (the first chapter of the Mishnah, which consists mostly of advice on proper behavior and attitude) during this season. Reading the moral advice of the Sages at this time is an expression of rectification. It is a time when we make corrections as we try to change and behave better during this period. It is an undeniable fact that when we behave in a particular way, we cultivate the emotions and the thoughts that go with that behavior(s). When we count the Omer, we unknowingly make corrections of our souls and errors we made against our Torah-life. This is what is meant in the wordings of ריבונו של עולם (Rebbono shel olam -“Master of the universe”) which we recite when we do the Omer count “…so that the souls of your people…. are cleansed of their contamination.” In the same line of prayer we beg that whatever blemish we have caused in the sefirah should be corrected in our lives, spirits, and souls. The meaning of this prayer in essence reveals that our emotions are hanged on the sefira and we simply count the Omer to renew ourselves and our short-comings.
#Number- Four: Relationship Between the Omer Count and the Sefirot
The sages taught that there are seven forms of emotions in human being and each of these emotions are judged during the seven weeks in the 49 days of the Omer counting.
SEFIROT AND THEIR REPRESENT IONS IN HUMAN EMOTIONS:
- Gevurah -Justice
- Hod Humility
The seven weeks, which represent these emotional attributes, further divide into seven days making up the 49 days of the counting.
Thus, the counting of the first week, which begins on the second night of Pesach, for instance, consist of day one of the Omer (יוֹם אֶחָד לָעֹֽמֶר) which is represented by the sefira חסד שבחסד – Chessed shebe Chessed (Loving kindness). We also recite Tehillim (Psalm) 67 after the insertion of each appropriate day count and sefira.
Psalm 67 which begins with; למנצח בנגינת – ” For the conductor upon the Neginot..” is a Psalm of blessing that is also read along the sefira together with the אנא בכח – Ana b’koach. Thus, each omer day count has its sefira, Neginot, and Ana B’koach respectively as provided in the following chart that apparently covers only the remaining days of the count with respect to the day of publication of this blog post:
- Today is forty four days which are six weeks and two days of the Omer |Gevuah shebe Malkut |Kabel | Elohim.
חֲמִשָּׁה וְאַרְבָּעִים יוֹם לָעֹֽמֶר, שֶׁהֵם שִׁשָּׁה שָׁבוּעוֹת וּשְׁלֹשָׁה יָמִים: |
תפארת שבמלכות |
ושמע | וייראו
- Today is forty five days which are six weeks and and three days of the Omer Tiferet shebe Malkut | Ush’ma | Vayiru.
שִׁשָּׁה וְאַרְבָּעִים יוֹם לָעֹֽמֶר, שֶׁהֵם שִׁשָּׁה שָׁבוּעוֹת וְאַרְבָּעָה יָמִים: |
נצח שבמלכות |
צעקתנו | אותו
- Today is forty six days which are six weeks and four days of the Omer | Netzach shebe Malkut | Tza’akatenu | Otho.
שִׁבְעָה וְאַרְבָּעִים יוֹם לָעֹֽמֶר, שֶׁהֵם שִׁשָּׁה שָׁבוּעוֹת וַחֲמִשָּׁה יָמִים: |
הוד שבמלכות |
יודע | כל
- Today is fory seven days which are six weeks and five days of he omer | Hod shebe Malkut | Yodea | Kol.
שְׁמוֹנָה וְאַרְבָּעִים יוֹם לָעֹֽמֶר, שֶׁהֵם שִׁשָּׁה שָׁבוּעוֹת וְשִׁשָּׁה יָמִים: |
תעלומות | אפסי
48. Today is forty eight days which are six weeks and six days of the Omer |Yesod shebe Malkut |Ta’almoth | Afsei.
תִּשְׁעָה וְאַרְבָּעִים יוֹם לָעֹֽמֶר, שֶׁהֵם שִׁבְעָה שָׁבוּעוֹת: |
מַלְכוּת שבמלכות |
שק”ו צי”ת | ארץ ה
- Today is forty nine days which are seven weeks of the Omer Malkut shebe Malkut | Aretz Aretz |
#Number- Five: Reciting The Ana BeKo’ach
We beg You! With the strength of Your right hand’s greatness, untie the bundled sins.
Accept the prayer of Your people; strengthen us, purify us. O Awesome One.
Please, o strong One, those who foster your oneness, guard them like the apple of an eye.
Bless them, show them pity, may your righteousness always recompense them.
Powerful Holy One, with your abundant goodness guide your congregation.
One and only Exalted One, turn to your people, which proclaim your holiness.
Accept our entreaty and hear our cry, o knower of mysteries.
The Ana Beko’ach has been described as one of the most powerful prayers in the entire universe since it was first revealed by kabbalist Rav Nachunya ben Hakana in the second century. The Ana Beko’ach is a unique formula, built of 42 letters written in seven sentences, that gives us the ability to transcend this physical world with all its limitations. According to kabbalah, reciting this prayer that contained the 42-letter Name of God can remove all frictions and barriers, and obstacles in the physical world.
In some congregation, the Ana Beko’ach is recited during the counting of the Omer. This is because the seven sentences in the prayers correspond to the seven sefirot, from Chesed to Malchut. And by connecting to these seven sefirot, one can gain control over the physical world and achieve the needed spiritual elevation.
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#Number- Six: The Rules of Counting The Omer
Rules are guiding the daily counting process of the Omer. It’s important to strictly adhere to these guidelines as the countdown to receiving the Law on Shavuot closes in. Generally, Jews are expected to prepare themselves with some degree of consciousness just as our ancestors did before the encounter at Mount Sinai, 49 days after departing the land of Egypt.
The following rules should be followed:
- The Omer is counted after nightfall while standing
- If one forgets to count at night, he counts during the day without saying the blessing but may recite the blessing on succeeding nights
- But if one forgot to count all day, he counts without a blessing on succeeding nights
- One should be careful not to mention the day before saying the blessing, in response to someone who asked which day it is.
#Number- Seven: Pesach Sheni (The Second Passover)
Pesach is known as the Jewish festival that reminds us of the freedom from the slavery of our ancestors in the land of Egypt. Each year when Jews celebrate Passover, they subject themselves to feel the same condition faced by their ancestors back in Egypt. For a period of eight whole days, the festival is celebrated by Jews around the world in fulfillment of the commandment of the Holy One, Blessed is He.
However, for the benefit of those who couldn’t observe the main Passover, a second opportunity is given to them. This is commonly known as the second Passover and comes up on the 29th day of the omer counting, which is about a month from the first seder night. This opportunity is created for those who were unable to participate in the first Passover. Nevertheless, for others, matzot can be eaten on that day to align with those observing the second Pesach, which is not necessarily marked for eight days, but rather in a single day.
#Number- Eight: Lag B’Omer
Lag B’omer is a minor Jewish holiday that occurs on the 33rd day of the Omer. According to history, twenty-four thousand students of Rabbi Akiva died of a plaque during this period but the deaths miraculously stopped on the 33rd day of the Omer. On account of this, Lag B’omer became a happy day, which interrupts the sadness of the Omer period for 24 hours.
Also, the legendary Rabbi Shimeon bar Yohai, one of the students of Rabbi Akiva, passed away on the 33rd day of the Omer counting. Rabbi Shimeon and his son, fleeing the Bar Kochba revolt against the Romans, hid inside a cave for 12 years, where a miraculous well and carob tree sustained them while they spent their day studying and praying. It was during this period that he received the inspiration to write the books of the Zohar.
On Lag B’omer, it has become a custom to light bonfires, as a symbol of the light of the Zohar brought into the World by Rabbi Simeon bar Yohai. It’s also a great time for couples to get married. And some Jews in Israel usually flock to the Rabbi Simeon’s tomb on Lag B’omer to light candles, some bring their 3-years old sons to have a haircut for the first time. Another interesting thing to note is that the manna that fed the Israelite in the desert first appeared on the 18th of Iyar.
All Israel has a share in the World to come, as it is said: “And your people are all righteous; they shall inherit the land forever; they are the branch of my planting, My handiwork, in which to take pride.”
The Holy One, Blessed is He, wishes to confer merit upon Israel; therefore He gave them Torah and mitzvos in abundance, as it is said: “Hashem desired, for the sake of its (Israel’s) righteous, that the Torah be made great and glorious.
Are you familiar with these quotes? Those are the beginning and ending affirmations in the chapters of the Pirkei Avos. I’m sure you guessed correctly! The chapters are studied successively, one chapter each Shabbat, once the Omer counting begins from the second day of Pesach until Rosh Hashana. The wisdom and wealth of information contained in the pikei Avos (ethics of the fathers) provide the perfect guidelines on how a Jew ought to model their lives. Hence, it’s important to read them continuously and also put into practice to receive the blessing and rewards that follow. But at the moment, as the counting of the Omer comes to an end, our focus is to get ourselves fully energized spiritually as we prepare to receive the light of the Torah on Shavuot.
About Eben Cohen: Moreh Eben Cohen is the founder of TorahWorld Outreach, as well as the Eben Cohen Foundation. He is a published author, and currently the Torah instructor in Knesset Olam Torah (Abia State). Cohen was the editor of the first-ever Jewish magazine in Nigeria- Jewish Voice.
Avraham ben Avraham is a Nigerian Writer, Business Consultant, International Tour Guide and a Jewish Travel Blogger. He is the founder of the Jewish Nigeria Blog (his 2nd blog after the Jewish Standards). Avraham is also a contributory writer in the diaspora section of The Jerusalem Post Magazine. Some of his upcoming projects include: the Jewish Nigeria Online Forum, Jewish Nigeria Directory, the “Book of the Returning Jews,” and Parnasah Network (Nigeria). He is a member of the Orthodox Jewish Chamber of Commerce (New Jersey).
Upcoming Stories on the Jewish Nigeria Blog
- Judaism Fellowship Initiative (JFI) inaugurates a new board of excos for the next three years.
- Shavuot Celebration Across Jewish Nigeria
- Pushing towards the establishment of a typical Jewish Nigeria community settlement
- The “Book of the Returning Jews of Nigeria.”
- The fight against Antisemitism