YomTov, Vol. IV, # 7
The Counting of the Omer - A Count of Anticipation
by Rabbi Yehudah Prero
Starting the second night of Pesach, we begin counting seven weeks, 49 days,
until the holiday of Shavuos. This counting is called Sefiras Ha'Omer, The
Counting of the Omer. (For more information on Sefiras Ha'Omer, see I:16, I:18)
One question posed by many early Halachik authorities pertains to how we
perform the count. On each night of the 49 days between the start of the count
and Shavu'os, we first make a blessing "Blessed are you G-d . . . who has
sanctified us with His mitzvos (commandments) and commanded us regarding the
Counting of the Omer." We then recite which day it is in the counting,
followed by a breakdown of how many weeks and days have elapsed. (For example
"Today is 23 days, which is three weeks and two days to the Omer."
the first time we perform a seasonal or occasional Mitzvah, we recite an
additional blessing. This blessing, popularly knows as "Shehechiyanu," reads
"Blessed are you G-d . . . who has kept us alive, and sustained us, and
brought us to this time." We say it, for example, the first time we light the
Chanukah candles, the first time we shake the Four Species on Sukkos, and the
first time we recite the Kiddush on the holidays. However, we don't recite
Shehechiyanu the first time we count the Omer. What differentiates this
commandment from others which carry with it the additional blessing?
The Kedushas Levi writes that the counting of Sefiras Ha'Omer is akin to
another counting we find in the Torah. Within the laws concerning ritual
purity (Tahara), there is a set of laws that pertain to a menstruant woman
("Niddah"). Physical contact between a woman and her husband is forbidden
while a she is experiencing her menstrual period. Once this has ceased, a she
may not immediately resume contact with her husband. She must count seven
days. At the end of the seven days, she immerses in a Mikvah (ritual bath),
and she is then permitted to resume contact with her husband. The Kedushas
Levi explains that these seven days are important to the marital relationship.
During the seven days, husband and wife count the days until when the Torah
permits physical contact. Their longing for each other grows, and with each
day, anticipation for the end of the count builds. When the eight day
arrives, it is with a sense of excitement and joy. The longing during this
imposed separation has made the heart grow fonder, and the husband and wife
can now freely express their feelings of attachment and love to each other.
G-d gave the nation of Israel the Torah on Shavu'os. This was a gift like no
other, and one whose value is immeasurable. We received the Torah, and became
the guardians of this treasure, because of the special relationship we have
with G-d. Every year, during the period of Sefiras Ha'Omer, we prepare
ourselves for the anniversary of this special occasion. We strengthen our
dedication to Torah study. We strive to improve our character and
interpersonal relationships so that we are fitting representatives of those
who live by the Torah. We eagerly anticipate the day on which we reaffirm our
special relationship with G-d. We do not make the blessing of Shehechiyanu on
counting Sefiras Ha'Omer because it is not appropriate. The seven-week count
of Sefiras Ha'Omer serves the same purpose as the seven-day count of the
Niddah: it builds excitement and creates anticipation of a day we should be
eagerly awaiting. The count is not a particularly happy time. It is a time
that separates us from a moment we eagerly await. Although the days dwindle as
the count progresses, the anticipation and impatience only builds. Only once
we have reached the special moment, the day on which we received the Torah, do
we recite the special blessing "Who has kept us alive and sustained and
brought us to this day."
The B'nai Yisaschar adds that the Torah alludes to the feelings we should have
during the count. The Torah does not just state we should count weeks and
days. It states "And you should count for yourselves . . . seven weeks, they
should be complete. . . until the morrow of the seventh week you shall count,
50 days (Vayikra 23:15)."
Why does the Torah state that we should count seven
complete weeks, when the Torah says right afterwards that we count until the
50th day? If we count until the 50th day, that means we will have counted
seven weeks of seven days each, which are seven complete weeks! The answer,
the B'nai Yissaschar writes, is that the count should be one continuous period
of anticipation. We should count, with fervent eagerness from the first day to
the last day, until we reach the very day we awaited, the day we received the
Torah. The time in which we waited for the special day was filled with such
enthusiasm and excitement that it is becomes part and parcel of the
celebration of Shavu'os. The long preparatory period, a time in which our
contemplation of day 50 never wavered, was a time of complete focus, a time
which is completed with the celebration of day 50. Hence, the seven weeks of
the count aren't just seven weeks. They are seven complete weeks.
The Sefira period is a time that we must use to prepare ourselves for the "big
day." It is for purposes of preparation, some say, that the study of Pirkei
Avos is customary at this time. (See
II:7, III:6). When we arrive at Shavu'os,
we should all recite the blessing of Shehechiyanu with a true and heartfelt
appreciation of the message the blessing conveys.
Check out all of the posts on the Omer! Head over to
http://www.torah.org/learning/yomtov to find the newly redesigned YomTov Home Page, and click on the holiday you are interested in to find all of the archived posts on that topic.
For questions, comments, and topic requests, please write to Rabbi Yehudah Prero.