One of the ways that my children were taught to calm down and take a break when they were processing their feelings was to count. Count 5 things you can see, 4 things you can hear, 3 things you can tough, 2 things you can smell, one thing you can taste. Or count your fingers and your toes while taking deep breaths. There are many ways that marking the passage of time, either by minutes or days, can make us feel calm, connect us to our bodies, and help us to feel a part of something larger than ourselves.
Counting the Omer began as an agricultural holiday that has its roots in the first barley offering and the first wheat offering in the Temple Era. The observance was a way of offering prayer for a good harvest. As Jewish civilization transitioned out of the temple period, counting Omer moved into an exercise to mark the passage of time between Passover and Shavuot. It is an existential exercise that asks us to reflect on the movement from enslavement, to liberation, to the giving of Torah both in the liturgical sense an also the change in perspective within our minds. The omer is counted every day for 7 weeks, ending with the holiday of Shavuot.
In Michigan, we’re far away from the wheat and barley harvests of Israel, as well as far from the experience of being enslaved. But as spring unfolds for us, counting the omer can help us shake off the stiffness of winter and recommit to the work of tikkun hanefesh (healing the soul) and tikkun olam (healing the world).
Some resources for counting the omer:
- Resource for Counting the Omer
- Weekly Omer Zoom Sessions with Rabbi Rachel Levy
- Learn more about where counting the Omer comes from
- Listen to this beautiful melody, it’s a kavannah before counting the Omer
- Learn about the connection between Kabbalah and counting the Omer
- Explore this reflection from Keshet: Counting My Genders: A Neo-Kabbalistic view of the Omer