by Rabbi Shraga Simmons The significance, customs and mechanics of counting the Omer.
What is the Omer?
In the days of the Holy Temple, the Jewish people would bring a barley offering on the second day of Passover (Leviticus 23:10). This was called the “Omer” (literally, “sheaf”) and in practical terms would permit the consumption of recently-harvested grains.
Starting on the second day of Passover, the Torah (Leviticus 23:15) says it is a mitzvah every day to “count the Omer” — the 50 days leading up to Shavuot. This is an important period of growth and introspection, in preparation for the holiday of Shavuot which arrives 50 days later.
Shavuot is the day that the Jewish people stood at Mount Sinai to receive the Torah, and as such required a seven-week preparation period. The commentators say that we were freed from Egypt only in order to receive the Torah and to fulfill it. Thus we were commanded to count from the second day of Pesach until the day that the Torah was given — to show how greatly we desire the Torah.
How to Count the Omer
The Omer is counted every evening after nightfall (approx. 30 minutes after sunset), which is the start of the Jewish ‘day.’ (In the synagogue it is counted toward the end of the Maariv service.) If a person neglected to count the Omer one evening, he should count the following daytime, but without a blessing.
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