WHAT IS THE OMER PERIOD AND WHY DO WE COUNT IT?In Bible times, the Jews used to take a measure of barley, called an omer, to the Temple in Jerusalem as a sacrifice to God to say thank you for giving them a good harvest. This was done on the second day of Pesach. From the second day of Pesach until the festival of Shavuot, we count each day for seven weeks and each day in anceint times an omer of barley was brought to the Temple. On the 50th day, when all the 49 days of the Omer period are finished, it will be the festival of Shavuot. This period of time between 2nd Day Pesach and Shavuot became known asSefirat haOmer, the counting of the Omer, and is often called simply the Omer or the Omer period.
WHY IS THE OMER PERIOD A SAD TIME?When the Romans controlled the land of Israel, they did not allow the Jews to study the Torah. At this time, there was a great Rabbi called Akiva who used to meet his students in a cave secretly to teach them Torah. During the Omer many of his students died from a plague, and so it is a time of mourning when we are not allowed to do certain things. The 33rd day of the Omer is called Lag B’Omer and it is not like the other days: it is a happy time. Two events are thought to have occurred on Lag B’Omer. The first is that the plague killing Rabbi Akiva’s students stopped and the second is that, later, a Jewish leader named Bar Kochba fought the Romans and won. The Romans left Palestine in 132 C.E.
HOW DO WE MARK THE OMER PERIOD?We count the days of the Omer, beginning on the second day of Pesach during the Ma’ariv (evening) service. A passage from Vayikra (Leviticus) is read, followed by these words: “Blessed are You, Adonai our god, Ruler of the Universe, who has hallowed us with your commandments, and commanded us concerning the Counting of the Omer.” Third, we announce the number of weeks that have passed since the start of the count. For example, “Today is the twelfth day making one week and 5 days of the Omer.” Also, during the whole of the Omer Period, we do not:
- Cut our hair (or shave)
- Have weddings or parties
- Listen to music
Judaism 101: The Counting of the Omer
Torah Tots: S’firat haOmer