THE ORIGINAL INSTRUCTION: The Torah instructs us: “You shall count for yourself from the morrow of the Shabbat [here meaning the festival], from the day when you bring the Omer [a measure of grain] for the offering, seven complete Sabbaths there shall be, until the morrow of the seventh Shabbat, you shall count fifty days.” (Vayikra 23) Traditionally, the count begins the on second day of Passover, and culminates on the 50th day with the Festival of Shavuot, a holiday celebrating the spring harvest and the giving of the Torah on Mount Sinai.
POST-TEMPLE OMER: At present, we do not fulfill the mitzvah of counting the Omer by bringing grain offerings. But we do still count! What meanings have recent teachers of Judaism given to the counting? Freedom from slavery was the first step for the Israelites. Giving shape to their new life as a nation was a second, even more significant, step. Because they were excited to move on to the new, they counted the days until they could receive the Torah. Today, we can still look forward to receiving the Torah as if it is new, by finding in it inspiration for new stages of ethical and spiritual growth. We make ourselves able to receive new meanings when we actively engage in reflective preparation.
SPIRITUAL REFLECTION: Kabbalistic and Hassidic teachers suggest that we read the Hebrew words “sefirat ha’omer,” the counting of the Omer, as “sefirot ha’omer,” the divine attributes that emanate into the world during the period of the Omer.
For each of the seven weeks, they teach, we should reflect on a particular personal quality. Each week, we should increase our capacity to express on that quality. The seven qualities are described using the language of the seven sefirot, seven qualities of God described in the Zohar (the “Big Book” of Jewish Mysticism).
WEEK ONE: Chesed — Lovingkindness. In practice: the ability to love others in a way that enables them to draw close to the Divine.
WEEK TWO: Gevurah — Strength of character. In practice: the personal resolve to make necessary personal sacrifices without faltering.
WEEK THREE: Tiferet – Glory. In practice: acting without ulterior motives.
WEEK FOUR: Netzach – Eternity. In practice: discerning what is of enduring importance in life.
WEEK FIVE: Hod – Splendor. In practice: pursing peace in every situation.
WEEK SIX: Yesod – Foundation. In practice: the moral commitment that is the foundation for human social life.
WEEK SEVEN: Malchut – Sovereignty. In practice: rising to do what we have been appointed by God to do.
Adapted from Eliyahu Kitov, The Book of Our Heritage