Image: An Abacus (Image by Alicja from Pixabay)
We’re in the time of counting the omer. It is a mindfulness puzzle. The omer is a measure of barley, a special daily sacrifice made at this season in Biblical times. Problem: we haven’t made any sacrifices since the destruction of the Temple in the year 70.
How can you count something that doesn’t happen? And why would you want to?
It’s based on a commandment in the Torah:
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.Leviticus 23:15-16
This passage comes at the end of the verses describing the Passover sacrifices. It directs the Israelites to count off the days and weeks (shavuot) from Passover to the festival of Shavuot. No reason is given.
The time we mark connects the Passover (God delivers us from Egypt) to our acceptance of the Torah (We accept our responsibilities as God’s people.) These are not entirely separate events: in the Torah narrative, the first is God doing something for the Israelites, and the second is the response of the Israelite people to God’s help.
In modern times it is a deceptively simple mitzvah. Every evening, after sunset, there is a little blessing to be said that finishes with a count in weeks and days:
Blessed are You, Adonai our God, Ruler of the Universe, Who has sanctified us with commandments and commanded us to count the Omer. Today is [number] week, [number] days of the Omer.
Do that from the second night of Passover until Shavuot, 49 days. It looks easy – what could be easier? – but if your life is like most American lives, good luck. This is where the Omer comes into its own as a long term mindfulness exercise. You have to remember something tiny, something that doesn’t really do anything, and you do it for 49 days running. If you forget until the next day, you can keep going but not with the blessing. No skipping, no missing. (Well, yes and no. See Oops, I Forgot the Omer.)
If you need help (I always do) there are smartphone and computer apps that will help you remember. Even with those, counting EVERY day at the CORRECT time takes attention.
There are also wonderful journals and meditations on the Omer that I can recommend, like Omer: A Counting by Karen Kedar. The core of the practice is the count; there are many beautiful ways to embellish and enrich it.
This is the season of paying attention. We have been called from Egypt, out into the wilderness. That’s all we know, until we get the Torah. So we pay attention.
Pay attention. I dare you.