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The Final Countdown -

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We talk of counting the omer, but what is the omer? And what is its significance? There are so many questions that we could (and should!) ask, but we are going to focus a few


Resursinnehåll

The Final Countdown

We talk of counting the omer, but what is the omer? And what is its significance? There are so many questions that we could (and should!) ask, but we are going to focus a few

What is an omer?

Lets start with a little background. On the second day of Pesach, there were two special sacrificial offerings brought by the Kohen (the priest), in the Beit HaMikdash (the Temple). The first is the Mussaf - the sacrifice that is brought in honour of Pesach, a sacrifice brought in addition to the daily sacrifices. The second is the Omer HaTenufah

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9) G-d spoke to Moshe saying, 10) Speak to Bnei Yisrael and say to them: When you come to the land that I am going to give you, and you reap its harvest, you must bring an omer of your first reaping to the priest. 11) He shall wave it in the motions prescribed for a wave offering to G-d, so that it will be acceptable for you. The priest shall make this wave offering on the day after the first day of the [Pesach] holiday 14) Until the day that you bring this sacrifice to your G-d, you may not eat bread, roasted grain or fresh grain. This shall be an eternal law for all generations, no matter where you live.

The omer was actually a measurement of the first reaping of the barley harvest. Before the time that the Omer was brought, it was forbidden to use any of the new grain crop that was in the fields. Once the Omer was brought, the use of all grain that had taken root beforehand was permitted. The Omer was harvested and bought as a happy time.

In the time of the Beit Hamikdash, on the second day of Pesach, (the 16th of Nissan), the Korban "Omer" is offered. On the second night of Pesach, (the first night of Chol Hamoed in Eretz Yisrael) in a field outside Yerushalayim, harvesters cut enough bundles (three sa'a - about 16 lbs.) of barley to make 5 pounds of fine flour. Back in the Beit Hamikdash, the Kohanim thresh the stalks till the kernels come tumbling down. Next the kernels are roasted over a fire and ground into flour. The flour is sifted until only the finest flour remains.

It takes about five pounds - an Omer - of flour mixed with oil and a handful of levona spice to make a Korban Omer. The mixture is placed in a pan. The pan is waved in all directions. Then a handful of the mixture is burned on the Mizbeach (Altar) and the rest is given out for the Kohanim to eat. Pesach starts the grain-harvesting season. Hashem commands that the barley cannot be harvested until the Korban Omer is brought.

According to the Torah (Vayikra -16), we are obligated to count 49 days from the second night of Pesach to the day before Shavuot, seven full weeks. This period is known as the Counting of the Omer.

For 49 days, starting the second day of Pesach, on whichever day of the week that might happen to fall, we count "the Omer." These 49 days represent the 49 days of preparation from Yetziat Mitzrayim (exodus from Egypt) to Matan Torah on the seventh day of Sivan. The day after this counting is complete, the fiftieth day, is the Yom Tov of Shavuot, the anniversary of the giving of the Torah to the Jewish People. Hashem commands the Jews that on the fiftieth day of counting the Omer we must celebrate the Yom Tov of Shavuot. In the Beit Hamikdash the Kohanim would offer the Shtay Halechem (two loaves) baked from the first wheat of the new harvest. Hashem promises that as a reward for the wheat offering He will bless the fruit of your fields. Unlike other dough offerings, the Shtay Lechem offering is allowed to rise. This offering is not burnt on the Mizbayach, it is shared by all the Kohanim.

After the destruction of the Beit Hamikdash, the practice of bringing the Korban Omer was discontinued but Jews continued to "count the Omer period," a custom which has continued throughout the ages.

But what was the counting all about?

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:‘v‹k vJsj vËjbn oÁ¤T‰crevu oIh ohÉnj


15) You shall then count seven complete weeks after the day following the [Pesach] holiday when you brought the omer as a wave offering, 16) until the day after the seventh week, when there will be [a total of] 50 days [on that 50th day] you may present new grain as a meal offering to G-d.

There are 2 main opinions as to what Sefirat HaOmer (counting the omer) is. Ramban explains that the period we are counting is from the karban HaOmer (brought on Pesach) to the karban habikurim (brought on Shavuot). Rambam however, disagrees, and explains that Sefirat HaOmer is a separate commandment and not reliant on the karbanot.

So what is the idea behind Sefirat HaOmer?

For Ramban it is obvious, it is the countdown from bringing one karban til the next. According to Rambam, the Sefira is a different countdown altogether. We must understand why we count from Pesach to Shavuot. On Pesach we were freed from slavery in Egypt. We became an Am, a People. But we were not yet complete. We had no responsibilities. On Shavuot there was Matan Torah (the giving of the Torah). Only then, were we freed spiritually. The countdown; Sefirat HaOmer from Pesach to Shavuot is the time explaining that the physical redemption was great but not enough, and we had to wait until our spiritual redemption.

One event was liberation, a grant of freedom and the birth of a nation. The other event was a dedication, a commitment to keeping the Torah, which G-d gave to the newborn nation. The connection between these two events can be viewed in two ways. Our departure from Egypt could be viewed as the turning point in our nation's history. The nation of Israel had the yoke of slavery lifted from upon them, and they became independent and free. The giving of the Torah to the nation of Israel served as a completion or a perfection of this new status. What would a society be without a set of laws and rules that the people would live by, in order to maintain the existence of this new free nation? The Torah acted as a societal structure for the new nation, a structure that was to preserve the freedom, which had been recently obtained after years of suffering and oppression.

Another way of viewing the connection between these events is by categorizing the giving of the Torah as the primary turning point in our nation's history. Hashem wanted to single out the nation of Israel and give them a special gift - the Torah. With this gift, there would be created an everlasting bond between G-d and the nation of Israel. However, it would be impossible to create this bond while the nation of Israel was still subjugated to a human master. The Jewish people therefore had to be freed from the slavery in Egypt. In order to receive the Torah and keep its commandments, the nation of Israel had to be liberated so that they would be free to serve G-d by adhering to His Torah.


These two perspectives share a common theme: The Torah and freedom are inextricably connected. However, the great commentator the R"an tells us which is primary: the Torah. There is a great danger inherent in the first perspective. It gives much weight to the value of freedom. When freedom in it of itself is revered and held above all, it leads to a free-for-all attitude. Once the freedom is granted, there is a tendency to exploit it, to do what one's heart desires without regard for the actions effects or implications. We must remember that freedom carries with it great responsibilities. We were not freed from Egypt so that we could go live our lives in any way we saw fit. Our freedom was granted so that we could enter the service of G-d. We were freed so that we could do G-d's will, so that we would treat our fellow man with proper respect, so that we could make the most of this freedom. We were liberated so that we could receive the Torah.

When we count the days in the Omer, we are in essence counting the days until we reach the purpose for our liberation. It is therefore fitting that during these days, we prepare ourselves for this turning point, for this climax. We should prepare ourselves for Shavuot by increasing our study of the Torah, by improving our relationship with our fellow man, and by strengthening our closeness to G-d. The time between Pesach and Shavuot, the Counting of the Omer, is a time for us to reflect on why we were freed from Egypt, and what we are to accomplish with our status as free men.

(Adapted from www.torah.org)

Why do we count the days that have past, as opposed to counting the days that remain between us and our goal (countin up as opposed to counting down)?

We count the days that have past rather than the days that still remain, because of the emotions that a count may elicit. We want to minimize the pain that comes with the realization that there is still time that separates us from the moment we are waiting for so anxiously. Therefore, we count the days that have passed, as the knowledge that there is time behind us will bring us joy, for we are getting closer to the moment we have been waiting for.

Shouldnt the period of Sefirat HaOmer be a happy time then?

Through the years, the Omer period has become identified with sad memories for Jewry. Massacres occurred during the period of the Romans and later still during the Crusades. In the days of the Roman Emperor Hadrian, the Jews - led by Bar Kochba - attempted to drive out the foreign oppressors from Judea. The revolt was unsuccessful and during the fighting thousands of Jews lost their lives.

According to the Gemarah (Yevamot 62b), 24,000 students (12,000 chevrutot) of Rabbi Akiva died in one short period, because "they did not show proper respect to one another!" And all of them died between Pesach and Shavuot as a result of a mysterious G-d-sent plague that raged during the days of the Omer counting. For that reason, it is customary to observe a period of semi-mourning during this time, 16th Nissan 5th Sivan, most prominently during the whole month of Iyar, (with one exception, Lag B'Omer, the 33rd day). Customarily no weddings take place, no hair is cut, and we do not listen to music. Some do not shave during this entire period. Some count the mourning period from Pesach to Lag B'Omer. Others go from Rosh Chodesh Iyar to Shavuot. This period is a time to reflect upon our middot and improve our relations with others. 

What is Lag BOmer?

Lag B'Omer (The word "Lag" is not really a word; it is the Hebrew letters Lamed and Gimmel, which have the numerical value of 33) is the 33rd day of Sefirat Ha'Omer (the counting of the Omer). On this one day only, Lag B'Omer, (the eighteenth of Iyar -The 33rd day of the Omer) Rabbi Akiva's pupils did not die. It was made into a festival in the middle of days of mourning that precede and follow it. The ban on weddings and joyful occasions was lifted.

Lag B'Omer also corresponds to the yahrtzeit (anniversary of the death) of the Talmudic Sage and disciple of Rabbi Akiva, Rabbi Shimon bar (son of) Yochai, author of the Zohar. The Zohar, meaning "The Shining Light," deals with the mystical teachings of the Torah and is the basis for Kabbala, whose secrets will bring about the coming of Moshiach. The death of a great sage is usually not marked with rejoicing - rather with sadness, but we treat Rabbi Shimon bar Yochai differently.

The Zohar in Parshat Ha'azinu tells us that on the day Rabbi Shimon passed away, a great light of endless joy filed the day, because of the secret wisdom he revealed to his students. That secret wisdom was written down and recorded in the holy Zohar. The happiness on that day was to him and his students like that of a groom while standing under the canopy at his wedding. On that day, the sun did not set until Rabbi Shimon had revealed all that he was permitted to. As soon as he was done, the sunset, and his soul returned to its Maker. Because of the happiness back then, we celebrate with happiness now, as well.

In Israel, people flock to the grave of Rabbi Shimon bar Yochai in the city of Meron. There is dancing and singing, and bonfires are lit. Many people wait until their son is three before cutting his hair, and on the Lag BOmer of his third year, they cut the boy's hair. There is also a custom that children play with bows ("keshet" in Hebrew) on Lag BOmer. A reason given for this is that in all the days of Rabbi Shimon bar Yochai's life, a rainbow was never seen. A rainbow is a sign that the world was due for a flood of the proportion of that in Noach's time. However, because Hashem promised Noach that such a flood would never be brought again, Hashem lets us know when we are deserving of such punishment by placing a rainbow ("Keshet" in Hebrew) in the sky. In the merit of Rabbi Shimon, the world was never deserving of such punishment in his generation, and the appearance of a rainbow was never necessary. Therefore, children play with bows, which in Hebrew share the same word as rainbow.

Aims & Games

1. To learn what the omer was and is

Learn the text.

Split the kvutsah into 2 groups. One group works on the original idea of the omer (from one karban to the second) and the other group works on the sad side of the omer. Share and compare.

Make a giant snakes and ladders board game, with the ladders being happy times and the snakes being sad. Chuck in a couple of squares with questions about the omer, and Bobs your uncle!

2. To understand the idea and importance of counting

99, 98 etc. Chanichim sit in a circle and everyone claps and then hits their knees in a beat. One chanich starts by saying 99, and then you go around the circle counting down one number each time. There must be no hesitation, and if a number is missed out or repeated, everyone starts again from 99.

1 10 The kvutsah must try to count to 10, but only one person can say each number (without planning an order!) If more than one person says the same number, the kvutsah must start again from 1.

Play Countdown

3. To consider the significance of Lag BOmer and its relevance to us

Yes, no, black white chanichim and Madrichim fire questions at a volunteer to which they cannot answer yes, no, black or white. Decide how many people you want to volunteer for this, and the middle person is allowed to say those words. (About half way through, there was a break in the plague and death of the talmidim this can be applied to other games as well.)

Lag Bomer one chanich volunteers and calls out random names of chaggim (festivals), and the other chanichim must stay frozen, until the volunteer says Lag BOmer and then the kvutsah run around (in an agreed space) and the volunteer must catch someone, who then continues.



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