What’s All This Talk About “The Omer”?
by Amy Lansky (CJC Ritual Chair)
Despite growing up in a relatively religious home and attending a Jewish day school and summer camps, I was taught very little about the Omer. But in recent years, more and more people have been using the Omer as a vehicle for personal transformation. For example, check out http://www.omerproject.org. Our very own Laura Siegel has also been contributing her own inspirational Omer insights each day on the CJC Facebook page. Thanks Laura!
So just what is the Omer? As you know, we have recently finished up with Passover. Seven weeks after the Passover begins, we celebrate the holiday of Shavuot, which is all about our receiving of the Torah (actually, the ten commandments) at Mount Sinai. So during the 49 days of the Omer — our very own Jewish “49 steps”! — we essentially make a voyage from slavery into a much more enlightened state of awareness. We are experiencing a kind of ascension. Taking a lead from this concept, efforts like The Omer Project link the 49 days of the Omer to the Kabbalistic tree of life, with each day corresponding to a unique combination of innate Godly qualities or emanations to be contemplated.
On a ritualistic level, the counting the Omer is really very simple. A short introductory prayer is said and then a statement of the form, “Today is the Nth day, which is X weeks and Y days, of the Omer.” In the days of the temple, a certain measure of harvest was brought each day during this period. The word “omer” means literally that — a measure. Today, I suppose, we bring a measure of ourselves and present it to God.
Interestingly, the Omer is also considered a period of sadness, so much so that weddings are not performed, nor is one supposed to cut one’s hair! There are many explanations for this, including various massacres and deaths of scholars that occurred during this period throughout Jewish history. This is likely why we also celebrate Yom HaShoah (remembrance of the Holocaust) during this period. The big exception is Lag B’Omer (the 33rd day of the Omer), which is a celebratory holiday in which both weddings and haircutting is allowed. It is also a day traditionally associated with the sport of archery and the appearance of rainbows as signs of redemption.
Why not make the Omer an opportunity for giving back to CJC? A $49 contribution to honor the 49 days of the Omer may be just the thing to honor your own personal ascension this year.