Counting the Omer During Quarantine

Written by: Rabbi Ora Nitkin-Kaner

There’s a tremendous amount of uncertainty in our lives right now. Many of the norms and systems we felt we could count on have shifted, changed, or been upended. To add to the stress of this unraveling, time itself has become elastic; we don’t have a clear sense of how long this new normal will last. And that’s hard.

During our most recent Community Check-In, I spoke about how the Omer–that is, the 49 days between Day 2 of Passover and Shavuot–was the precise length of the Israelites’ journey from Egypt to Mt. Sinai.

This physical journey didn’t need to take 49 days; Egypt and Mt. Sinai aren’t that far apart. But the Israelites needed those full 7 weeks to enact an internal psychological shift, moving from a free-wheeling, newly-embraced freedom and all the frantic energy that that entailed to an understanding of the importance of mutual care and commitment to an ethical, rule-bound life.

Nowadays, we count the Omer to remember this internal shift that our ancestors experienced. Implicit in counting the Omer is a reminder that growth periods are often slow and filled with a tremendous amount of uncertainty.

We know that counting the Omer takes 49 days because we know how the story of the Exodus ends. But imagine how the Israelites must have felt just after leaving Egypt– with everything in flux, thrust into a new world, and with no sense of how or when that part of their journey would end.

As we move through our own time of profound uncertainty, we have the same tools as our ancestors to keep us rooted and open: We can notice where we started. We can look around and realize who is with us on this journey. We can understand that the path is uncertain, both in journey and duration. We can notice that we keep moving forward, one step at a time. And we can remember that we will get through this, together.

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Several of our members are taking on the spiritual practice of counting the Omer this year, and are reporting that it feels especially relevant and helpful right now. If you didn’t start counting with Day 1, not a problem – you can jump in whenever you like!

Here are some resources to help you get started:

May we be blessed with health, safety, and growth on this journey, and blessed to notice what can truly be counted on during this time.

Rabbi Ora