Counting the Omer: The Next Phase of Our Spiritual Journey
This Dvar Torah was written by Rabbi Laila Haas, CAJE’s Director of Adult Learning & Growth.
Last Shabbat we gathered around our seder tables to retell the story of our ancestor’s journey from bondage to freedom, as it is written in Exodus 12:14, “and this day shall be for you as a memorial, and you shall celebrate it as a festival for the L-rd; throughout the generations you shall celebrate it as an everlasting statute.” We sang, we asked questions, we engaged in age old rituals, and we added our own words to our people’s narrative.
This week, at the conclusion of Havdalah, we will bid farewell to Shabbat and the festival of Pesach, and begin a new journey, a spiritual ascent to Mt. Sinai. On the second night of Pesach, we began counting the omer, a spiritual exercise, as we prepare to receive the gift of Torah.
Our tradition teaches that on Pesach we should approach the ritual as if we ourselves, were slaves in Egypt. The seder is designed to be an “experience” that engages our senses so we might know, understand, and feel the burden of bondage as well as celebrate the ecstasy of redemption. The Hebrew word for Egypt, Mitzrayim, contains the root word tzar, meaning a narrow place.
Last Shabbat we found ourselves in a narrow, binding space full of darkness. This Shabbat, after having crossed the sea, we find ourselves standing on “terra nova”, new land, which is wide open and full of possibility. We stand ready to begin the next phase of our journey which demands focus and intentionality, as we prepare for the festival of Shavuot.
Although the goal is to advance “upwards” towards Sinai, the exercise of counting the omer challenges us to be fully present each day as we create moments of holiness through the recitation of a blessing. Many people precede the counting of the omer with a meditation that states one’s intention to fulfill the commandment. This meditation helps to focus us on the spiritual task at hand.
As we begin our ascent, may we engage in the work of releasing ourselves from the “mitzrayims” in our lives, the things that spiritually weigh us down, the burdens that bind us and the negativity that surrounds us. The practice of counting the omer calls us to focus on the aspects of our lives that lead to growth, joy, and new possibilities.
Transforming the obligation of counting the omer into a ritual, provides a sacred space to focus on living lives of meaning, purpose, and intentionality. As we count the days to receive the gift of Torah, may we be guided by its radiant light and inspired by its teachings. Shabbat Shalom, Chag Pesach Sameach and Happy Counting!
Blessing for the Counting of the Omer:
Recite a blessing each night of the 50-day period:
בָּרוּךְ אַתָּה יְיָ אֱלֹהֵֽינוּ מֶֽלֶךְ הָעוֹלָם, אֲשֶׁר קִדְּשָֽׁנוּ בְּמִצְוֹתָיו, וְצִוָּֽנוּ עַל סְפִירַת הָעֹֽמֶר
Baruch atah Adonai Eloheinu melech ha-olam asher kid'shanu b'mitzvotav vitzivanu al s'firat ha-omer.
Blessed are You, Adonai our G!d, Ruler of the universe, who sanctifies us with mitzvot, and commands us concerning the counting of the Omer.
Today is _______ day(s) which is _____ week(s) of the Omer.