How to count the Omer

First, let me tell you something Rabbi Dr. Mordecai Finley teaches every year: the Halacha police are under-funded. Please engage in ritual however you find it meaningful.

Traditionally, the Omer must be counted every day. And by every day, I mean every Jewish day – which begins after sundown and continues through the next day. In order to “count,” one must recite the blessing while standing at night. If you forget, you can count the Omer without the blessing during the day of that Omer. If you completely forget, game over. No more Omer counting for you. Re-read my first paragraph.

So, how to perform the mitzvah? The easiest way to begin is to follow Rabbi Finley’s annual Omer calendar (pdf).

I also use the Meaningful Life Center My Omer app and the Chabad Omer Counter app. (I tend to prefer the Omer Counter, but it was glitchy starting this year, probably because Chabad doesn’t think you should use technology on Shabbat or a holy festival day.)

There are also books that can help you with the meditative aspect of each permutation of the seven lower sephirot. The Meaningful Life Center book is basically a paper version of what is available on their website / in their emails (although perhaps the emails are now not available for free). Last year, my friend, Israel Sushman, recommended Rabbi Min Kantrowitz’s Counting the Omer: A Kabbalistic Meditation Guide. This seems like a good resource. To be honest, I am trying to meditate my way into each day before reading other people’s thoughts in an effort to bring forth my own understanding of each day as it arises. In this, I have been aided by reading Gershom Scholem’s Major Trends in Jewish Mysticism and Moshe Idel’s Kabbalah: New Perspectives.

Additionally, my meditation draws upon over a decade of studying at Ohr HaTorah with Rabbi Finley and my courses at the Academy for Jewish Religion, California with Rabbi Ronnie Serr, Dr. Tamar Frankiel and Rabbi Dr. Tal Sessler.

A sephira means a number. Each sephira has hundreds of years of meaning poured into it. There is no one absolute definition of a sephira, or the sephirot (plural version of the word). The names are placeholders for larger, deeper concepts. Every system can be transformed by the people and communities that use it. And each year, as we grow, we bring a new version of ourselves to this spiritual process. May your counting help you become truly liberated, and deeply held in the matrix of the universe.

One Day of Omer 5779

I am in my third year of rabbinical school and this is the third year I am publicly counting the Omer. Growing up, this was an arcane tradition that we included on our second night of Passover Seder. I never knew anyone who counted all seven weeks and I never knew a meaningful reason to do it. An omer is a unit of barley. The barley offerings at the Temple began on Passover, and continued until the wheat was harvested and brought on Shavuot. In the Middle Ages, the Jewish mystical tradition added a layer of meaning to this count that has made it one of the highlights of my spiritual year. We are given the opportunity to journey within ourselves, to more fully embody freedom. Purifying ourselves through our meditation on the lower seven sephirot, we create vessels worthy of being filled with Divine Revelation on Shavuot.

Today is the First Day of the Omer, 5779.

It all begins with the Grace of Grace. The Love of Love. חסד שבחסד. Chesed SheBe Chesed.

The Tanya teaches that we should purify our thoughts, speech, and actions. It is important to begin with thoughts because those are closest to our soul and when we have impure thoughts, we tarnish our soul. I often stumble over today, wishing that one year the order would be changed, allowing me to work my way into Chesed rather than attempting to start from this place. Over the years, I have built up an heavy armor to protect myself from the world. I am rooted in Gevurah, Disclipline / Strength, desperately seeking Chesed.

When I hold one of my sons and when I chant the bedtime Sh’ma for them, these are times when I allow myself to feel the grace that surrounds us always. As hard as life can be, as painful as life can be, as crazy as the world around us can seem, the Soul of the Universe is emanating Love and that Love surrounds us from one end of eternity to the other. Today, I choose to ignore the stories I’ve told about myself all these decades. I choose to approach each moment with love in my eyes. I will allow pure Grace to transform my thoughts to their highest level. I choose to see the Divine Light radiating through each and every living being with whom I interact. I choose to meditate into the love striving to be actualized. I choose to give birth to the most loving version of myself. I choose to subjugate my Yetzer HaRa, my inclination towards destructiveness.

This week of chesed, may I break free of sarcasm and doubt. May I open myself up to full-throated, unabashed Love. May I see the Grace that surrounds me at all times and act with grace and humility.

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Day One of the Omer 5778 / 2018

Day One of the Omer 5777 / 2017