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Why do we count the Omer?

by Rabbi Naftali Silberberg

  

Library » Holidays » Counting the Omer | Subscribe | What is RSS?


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Counting the 49 days between Passover and Shavuot (starting with the second day of Passover) is essentially a Biblical command: "You shall count for yourselves, from the morrow of the rest day [of Passover], from the day you bring the Omer as a wave offering seven weeks; they shall be complete. You shall count until the day after the seventh week, [namely,] the fiftieth day".1

The Midrash tells us that after leaving Egypt, Moses informed the Israelites that they would be receiving the Torah from G-d. In response to the Jews' inquiries, Moses notified them that this event would happen on the fiftieth day after leaving Egypt. Upon hearing the good news, the Jews excitedly started counting down the days until Shavuot.2

According to most Halachic authorities, the counting of the Omer was a Biblical obligation only when the Omer sacrifice was actually offered in the Holy Temple. Today the Sages instituted that we continue this practice in memory of the Biblical command -- and in anticipation of the rebuilding of the Holy Temple, when once again we will be observing the Biblical command of counting the Omer.

Additionally, the spiritual aspect of counting the Omer is certainly relevant today.

Footnotes

  • 1. Leviticus 23:15-16
  • 2. Ra"N on Pesachim

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Torah
Torah is G–d’s teaching to man. In general terms, we refer to the Five Books of Moses as “The Torah.” But in truth, all Jewish beliefs and laws are part of the Torah.
Passover
A Biblically mandated early-spring festival celebrating the Jewish exodus from Egypt in the year 1312 BCE.
Halachic
Pertaining to Jewish Law.
Moses
[Hebrew pronunciation: Moshe] Greatest prophet to ever live. Led the Jews out of Egyptian bondage amidst awesome miracles; brought down the Tablets from Mount Sinai; and transmitted to us word-for-word the Torah he heard from G-d's mouth. Died in the year 1272 BCE.
Shavuot
Early summer festival marking the day when the Jews received the Torah at Mount Sinai in the year 2448 (1312 BCE).
Omer
Starting from the second day of Passover, we count forty-nine days. The fiftieth day is the holiday of Shavuot. This is called the “Counting of the Omer” because on the second day of Passover the barley “Omer” offering was offered in the Holy Temple, and we count forty-nine days from this offering. [Literally, "Omer" is a certain weight measure; the required amount of barley for this sacrifice.]
Midrash
(Pl. Midrashim). Non-legal material of anecdotal or allegorical nature, designed either to clarify historical material, or to teach a moral point. The Midrashim were compiled by the sages who authored the Mishna and Talmud (200 BCE-500 CE).
Temple
1. Usually a reference to the Holy Temple which was/will be situated in Jerusalem. 1st Temple was built in 825 BCE and was destroyed in 423 BCE. The 2nd Temple was built in 350 BCE and was destroyed in 70 CE. The 3rd Temple will be built by the Messiah. 2. A synagogue.
G-d
It is forbidden to erase or deface the name of G-d. It is therefore customary to insert a dash in middle of G-d's name, allowing us to erase or discard the paper it is written on if necessary.