Sefirat HaOmer: What is an Omer and Why Do We Keep Counting it?
By Shlomo Phillips © April 14, 2015 (last updated April 3, 2018)

During the festival I post the daily Omer on my Facebook Page as part of my observance.

The following explains this biblical observance and related insights.

"Counting the Omer" is Torah Mitzvah 127: To count forty-nine days from the time of the cutting of the Omer (first sheaves of the barley harvest). There are various counts of the 613 mitzvot).
וּסְפַרְתֶּ֤ם לָכֶם֙ מִמָּחֳרַ֣ת הַשַּׁבָּ֔ת מִיּוֹם֙ הֲבִ֣יאֲכֶ֔ם אֶת־עֹ֖מֶר הַתְּנוּפָ֑ה שֶׁ֥בַע שַׁבָּת֖וֹת תְּמִימֹ֥ת תִּהְיֶֽינָה׃

And from the day on which you bring the sheaf of elevation offering—the day after the sabbath—you shall count off seven weeks. They must be complete:

עַ֣ד מִֽמָּחֳרַ֤ת הַשַּׁבָּת֙ הַשְּׁבִיעִ֔ת תִּסְפְּר֖וּ חֲמִשִּׁ֣ים י֑וֹם וְהִקְרַבְתֶּ֛ם מִנְחָ֥ה חֲדָשָׁ֖ה לַיהוָֽה׃

you must count until the day after the seventh week—fifty days; then you shall bring an offering of new grain to the LORD. -- Leviticus 23:15,16

From the second night of Passover until the day before Shavuot Jewish Tradition instructs us to observe the mizvah of Sefirat HaOmer (counting of the Omer). HaTorah instructs us that during this time each year we are to count seven complete weeks, for a total of 49 days. This is the counting of the omer. There are various customs surrounding this pratice. At the end of the seven-week period we celebrate Shavuot, a word meaning "weeks." For this reason Shavuot is often called the Festival of Weeks.

Sefirat HaOmer is an important mitzvah for all Jews. The count, which takes place each night as the new day begins (remember we follow a lunar calendar), is preceded by a blessing. There are various rules associated with the counting. For instance, if we fail to count before sunrise we are permitted to do the count during the day, only without the blessing. We then continue as normal the next night. Most authorities say that if one misses a complete day (i.e. they do not say the count for an entire day) they may continue the count however without the blessing until the next year. A minority opinion holds that they may not continue the count even without the blessing that year. For this reason, it is important to recite the count on the correct night for the entire period. According to majority opinion, it is permitted to listen as a friend says the blessing and then do the counting. HaShem is merciful.

Why do we count these days? We learn several reasons. The most important is that the count demonstrates our excitememnt as we look forward to receiving the Torah on Shavuot. As we count these days we do so with excitement and emunah confident that once again HaShem will reveal His Torah to us. As we do the count we intend to be mindful that we are the Israelites who left Egypt with Moshe and are, once again, making our way to Mount Sinai. This elevated consciousness encourages us to purify ourselves, both phyically and spiritually, for our upcoming encounter with King of all kings.

During this period we spiritually prepare and refine ourselves. Like the Israelites nearly 3,500 years ago, we have assimilated and embraced many of the immoral ways of the Egyptian (American etc) people. Like them, we must purge ourselves. We are aware that the Jews who left Egypt failed to accomplish this. As a result they died in the wilderness rather than being permitted to enter the Land of Promise. As we count the omer we determine not to be like them. Our growing kavanah or intnetion to merrit witnessing the coming of HaMashiach and the dawn of of the Olam Haba, the Messianic World to Come. May this be the intention of all of our people!

During their forty-nine days between Peasach and Shavuot they underwent a radical transformation of consciousness. They witnessed the direct power and love of HaShem as no other generation had, and yet they created a golden calf and chose to return to slavery rather than place their emunah in HaShem alone. Likewise no generation since theirs has witnessed the power of HaShem so publicly displayed. Not only have around hald of the Jews been allowed by G-d to retake a portion of our Homeland, it was done with literal miracles! We continue to see miracles on Israel's behalf every day. Despite this, a large segment of our people excecise little to no emunah. Instead we reamin a woefully divided people who look to the Gentile nations for our security. We are divided into rival movements. We even sometimes deny the "Jewisness" of our fellow Jews. Despite this, we have the audacity to say we believe in HaShem and desire His Theocratic rule over us. May this Sefirat HaOmer be the time we cast off our lack of emunah! May all Jews use this opportunity to arise to devekut, attachment to HaShem and His people.

May we all learn the lessons of Sefirat HaOmer. Then we will be a Light to Nations as described at Yeshayahu (Isaiah) chapter 49.

So said the Lord, the Redeemer of Israel, his Holy One, about him who is despised of men, about him whom the nation abhors, about a slave of rulers, "Kings shall see and rise, princes, and they shall prostrate themselves, for the sake of the Lord Who is faithful, the Holy One of Israel, and He chose you."
What Is An Omer?

Why Do We Keep Counting it?

The counting reminds us of the exodus from Egypt and everything included in that event. This includes G-d's might, judgements and love as well as our failures and missed opportunities. By keeping this memory alive we acknowledge that it is not too late! The greater exodus from slavery is still ahead of us. The final Redemption of our people could happen during our lifetime IF seek HaShem and purify our consciousness (II Chronicles 7:14). Its not too late.
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There Are Four "Worlds:"

Our physical world consists of two components: One celestial and one terrestrial. The "celestial" includes the stars and planets, the physical heavens. The "terrestrial" is our realm, the physical earth. These two combine and comprise our physical "world." The world we see with eyes and experience (including through telescopes etc). In our pride we usually think our "world" is the totality of existence, but in truth it is but a minor realm within a limitless expanse. In this the wise are often foolish while the 'foolish' are wise. Due to their lack of emunah fools blind themselves to reality.

"Above" or beyond our finite realm is the world of the angels and other similar etheric entities. Their realm is much "larger" than ours by comparison, but it too is as nothing when compared with the totality of existence.

"Higher" and more expansive than the second and first worlds combined is the third. This is the world our sages sometimes refer to as the Realm of the Higher Forces. This world is also known as the World of the Throne or Merkabah. A slight glimpse into this realm is found in the Chariot Throne referenced by Prophet Yechezkel (Ezekiel) in chapter one of the book bearing his name. There is a mystical Jewish school dedicated to the study of the Merkabah.

All of these three words are teaming with diverse life forms or entities. Individualized existence is the Way of G-d. Each life form, each species, and each realm has its own nature of existence and its own degree of individuality. Each exists as created by the Holy One and each fulfills it purpose according to the will of the Creator.

One of these life forms is unique in terms of its inviduality and free will according to the understanding of our sages. That being is humanity. Only humans were "created in the image of G-d." This image is not referring to physical characteristics. The Holy One has no such form. The image of G-d refers to our intellectual ability to choose our course. Because we were created with dual impulses (or yetser) we choose between yetzer hatov and yetzer hara, between the positive and the negative impulses. This dual nature grants us free will.

By our free will we can elevate or diminish our consciousness. We can choose the path of light or the way of darkness. Those who choose to utilize the tools offered during the Sefirat HaOmer uncover the secrets of devekut, attachment to the Holy One, which is our collective destiny. As such people become increasingly attached to the Holy One their consciounsess ascends upwards and they attain the consciousness of Kether, the "highest" of the sephirot.

With this attainment, "Kether becomes Malkuth of the next order" and soul gradually ascenda from one world to the next.

"Higher" still, transcending the realm of the Merkabah or third world of conceptual existence, is the realm that can only be called a "world" in the most general sense. The Fourth Realm transcends all description. It encompasses realities we can only speak of in philosophical or allegorical terms because its Reality is so far beyond our finite comprehension as to be inconcievable. This is the Realm of Divine Influences. These emanations proceed from the Holy One (Blessed be He!) and fills all existence. From this Realm flows the transcendant revelations or emanations as luminous fibers of the One Light from which all existence comes and to which all existence inevitable returns. Of this Realm we read:

"It has been clearly demonstrated to you that Sacred Name alone is G-d; there is none beside Him. From the heavens He let you hear His voice to discipline you; on earth He let you see His great fire; and from amidst that fire you heard His words. And because He loved your fathers, He chose their heirs after them; He Himself, in His great might, led you out of Egypt, to drive from your path nations greater and more populous than you, to take you into their land and assign it to you as a heritage, as is still the case. Know therefore this day and keep in mind that the LORD alone is God in heaven above and on earth below; there is no other (Deuteronomy 4:35-39)
Other than the Holy One there is no existence! The Influences emanating from the Holy One can not be considered "entities" because nothing exists with the Holy One. There are therefore no gods, not demigods, no incarnations, and no mediators. There are no individual beings, phenomena, etc. in that Realm.

From this Fourth World emanates a spectrum of the Or Chadash or Sacred Light. This all inclusive Light emanates from the Holy One according to His Will due to His love for all creatures. Through this 'spectrum' of Sacred Light the inconcievable Holy One (Ain Soph) becomes conceivable as the King of the Merkabah described by Navi Ezekiel. The Holy One bestows existence, both particular and universal, to the creations of the lower worlds according to their diverse natures. Not all realms are the same, not all the entities are the same. HaShem provides to each according it own nature and needs through the emanations of His Holy Light.

As a spectrum, the Emanations are One and yet can be categorized or conceptualized even as music is one and yet consists of diverse notes. Related to this concept is the Ten Utterances percieved in the first chapter of Bereshit-Genesis when the Elohim "said" "Let there be... and there was." The graphic to the right shows a tzaddik (a pious one) pondering Torah and realizing the Ten Emanations (Sephirot) of his being. Note that he is pondering them through Torah as if the scroll were a prism. All truth is revealed through HaTorah.

The Emanations exist both as the microcosm and macrocosm of existence. They are therefore conceived as the "Palace," "House," or Body of Adam Kadmon (original or primordial Man, not to be confused Adam of Gan Eden). Adam Kadmon is humanity and its unique potential as mentioned above. Humanity is unique among the created beings. By actualizing the individual emanations or powers of the Tree of Life one is empowered to ascend ever higher as we attach ourselves more and more completely with the Holy One (Blessed be He!).

As one spiritually ascends or progresses, "Kether becomes Malkuth of the next order" and the process towards 'enlightenment' or at-one-ment with the Divine Light of the Or Chadash advances and one becomes ever more 'attached' to the Holy One, Who alone is both our Source and our Destination (Tehillim/Psalms 82). This process is what is being referenced in the counting of the Omer. The soul, enslaved by material desires and poor choses, arises as the Son or Daughter of the Most High as the personal unification of these emanations is merrited and acheived.

For more on this topic see my study here.

For more information on Shavuot see my study here

Warning

Having presented this very basic level of information in what I hope is an understandable fashion, I must also offer a serious warning as well:

While there is a vast wealth of wisdom and potential in studying proper mysticism, there are also serious potential dangers. Just as religions and diverse sects of "replacement theologies" have arisen seeking to replace the Jewish people and hoping to usurp the Jewish Covenant with HaShem, so too there are a LOT of counterfeit groups and individuals selling "Kabbalah" by various names. These groups need to be avoided at all cost let they containment one's soul with avodah zarah (foriegn ideologies)!

Real knowledge of these topics comes with strict rules about teacher and student qualifications, applications of learned materials, and so on. Those websites that claim to teach "New Age," "Practical," "Universal," and so versions of Kabbalah are not to be trusted in my opinion. To study these ancient Jewish topics one needs to be Jewish [this information is not for the other nations] and well versed in Torah, Tanach, Mishna, Talmud, etc. One also needs to be Torah Observant, Shomer Shabbat, and regularly engaged in hitbodedut (personal, secluded prayer and meditation with HaShem). One needs to learn one on one, or in a small group, with an experienced master who is mature and knowledgeable in all these topics, and who possesses the applicable traits. Proper training in these areas is beyond the knowledge and ability of most Jews, even most rabbis. In my opinion, this negates anything you may find on the internet, other than basic descriptions such as I am sharing here. There are a couple of introductory sources online, such as CHABAD's Kabbalah Online, but my advise is to not seek these materials online if at all. Please understand that this is not a field to be lightly dallying with. My personal suggestion is to focus on the teachings of Rebbe Nachman of Breslov and other expert Chassids. Rebbe Nachman in particular includes a lot of the core material in his teachings (and his stories especially)that will present these truths in ways that are uplifting and beneficial to ones spiritual development.

Lag B'Omer: connects Pesach (exodus from slavery) to Shavu'ot (freedom from slavery through the giving of Torah). Pesach is instituted at: Leviticus 23:15 "And from the day on which you bring the sheaf of elevation offering—the day after the sabbath—you shall count off seven weeks. They must be complete: you must count until the day after the seventh week—fifty days; then you shall bring an offering of new grain to the LORD."

The Torah commands counting the days from Pesach to Shavu'ot. This period is known as the Counting of the Omer as discussed. There are several traditions surrounding the period including partial mourning. For this reason weddings, celebrations, parties etc. are forbidden, as are haircuts and unnescessay attention to normal grooming. Lag B'omer is day 33 of the count. On this one day all of the restrictions are lifted. They resume the next day.

For more information on Lag B'Omer see my study HERE

Sefirat HaOmer ends on Shavuot. Shavuot is also known as Pentecost, the Festival of Weeks, Hag HaBikkurim (the Festival of First Fruits), and Hag Matan Torateinu (the Festival of the Giving of Torah)