“You must count until the day after the seventh week —fifty days; then you shall bring an offering of new grain to the Eternal” Leviticus 15:16


We are in the middle of counting the Omer, the 49-day cycle of days, seven weeks, which take us from Pesach to Shavuot. It is an extraordinary journey — a double helix of time, two strands winding around each other, threaded through our Jewish DNA.

On the one hand, we are leaving Egypt and walking across the desert with our ancestors. We began the journey on the second day of Pesach and will end it at Shavuot when we are given the Torah. It is in the wilderness, the empty space, the “in-between” place that we move from “freedom from” slavery, towards “freedom to” engage with Torah.

But at the same time, and this is evident in this week’s parashah which sets out the festival calendar, we are also settled citizens anxiously watching our grain grow. The Omer that we count is the sheaf that the priest waves each day until the first harvest. Every day we hold our breath and hope that things will improve, much as we are hoping that every day will take us out of lockdown and into a pandemic-free world.

I began to count the Omer as a spiritual practice about 20 years ago and it has transformed this season of the year for me, mapping a path from spring into summer and helping me to internalise that sense of awe and anticipation as we approach the 50th day, Shavuot, the day of encountering the Divine and of bringing new grain, the first fruits of whatever we’ve been working on this year.

If one does the counting with intention or kavannah, it can be a seven-week ladder of reflection and meditation. Kabbalists see this period as a 49-step programme to prepare for the receiving of Torah, using the lower seven sefirot (attributes of both the Divine and human personality). Each day represents a combination of two different attributes. This Shabbat (May 1) is Yesod shebe’Hod (connection/loyalty within splendour/humility).

If you don’t currently count the Omer, I strongly recommend it. Get an Omer calendar off the internet to keep track of the days. (If you want to start now, from the middle of the Omer, it’s traditional to count without saying a blessing.)

Walk the path. Live the journey. And I’ll see you at Sinai.

Naomi Goldman is rabbi of Kol Chai Hatch End Reform Jewish Community


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