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Counting the Omer

A Message from Rabbi Zalman Schachter-Shalomi

“Oo-sfartem lahem: Do your counting for your sake.” (Leviticus 23:15)

“Teach us to number our days that we my get us a heart of wisdom.” (Psalm 90:12)

“And Abraham grew old, he came into days.” (Genesis 24:1 )

Rabbi Nachman of Bratzlav used to say, “When a person pays attention to what happens to him during the days of the Sefirah period he soon becomes aware that all he sees and hears on that day is but the activity of that Sefirah and that it can serve to align him to G*d’s blessed will.”

From the second night of Pesach to the night before Shavuot we count the Omer. Originally this Sefirah period was a way to punctuate the ripening barley’s daily growth, until the Omer of ripened barley was brought as a sacrifice to the Temple in gratitude for the harvest. When we were no longer involved with farming our sages ordered us to count, and this counting became a moral preparation for the Receiving of the Torah at Sinai.

AS WE GO EACH DAY FARTHER AWAY FROM EGYPT, WE COME CLOSER TO SINAI. By the time these ideas get further refined in the ZOHAR we are dealing with a movement from the 49 Gates of Defilement through the Gates of Understanding. Since we have to count 7 times 7 weeks, the number is not accidental. There is a pattern which 7 times 7 produces of both cosmic and personal significance. The Kabbalists taught us that the seven weeks represent the periods in which one or another of the Seven Holy Attributes represented by the seven names not to be erased appear in 49 different combinations.

The attributes are listed in the following order: Hesed, Gevurah, Tiferet, Nezah, Hod, Yesod, Malchut. The seven attributes correspond to the seven archetypal persons: Abraham, Isaac, Israel, Moses, Aaron, Joseph, and David. The seven attributes are also modes: functioning (in Assiyah), feeling (in Yetzirah), understanding and well being (in B’riyah), and essence (in Atzilut). As such functions they are the operations of the Seven Sefirot as manifested in us either on the side of holiness and order, or on the side of defilement and chaos. They are virtues on the holy side and vices on the side of evil.

Accordingly each of 49 days of the Omer Period represents one of the possible combinations of the Divine Sefirot. The action directive is SCRUTINIZE each day for the lessons it teaches on how to purify and harmonize the mode of that day to be in consonance with the attunement that the DIVINE SEFIRAH offers on that day. In this way one fulfills the mitzvah of “U-sfartem Lahem.” A person counts all the lights and attributes needed to leave Egypt behind and to come closer to Sinai.

TO NUMBER ONE’S DAYS MEANS TO MAKE THEM COUNT so that one does not sleep through life without awareness. AND ABRAHAM GREW OLD AND CAME INTO DAYS is a blessing for all of us to become fully realized in the divine and human scheme of things. As Rabbi Shneur Zalman once said, “We have to live with the times.” When pressed to say what he meant he said, “With the Sidrah of the week and the Sefirah of the day. You meet another G d wrestler and the two of you start comparing notes and you realize that you are both on the way to Sinai.”