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OMER´┐ŻA SPIRITUAL DISCIPLINE

By Rabbi Rafi Rank, The CyberRav

Rabbi Rafi RankHere’s an interesting way to count—1, 2, 4, 7, 9, 13,
14, 15, 16, 22, and so forth.  You might not find this way of counting particularly useful, but some Jews find no problem in counting this way.  Let me explain.  These days we are engaged in a ritual known as Sefirat HaOmer, Counting the Omer.  The Torah instructs us to count 49 days beginning with the second night of Passover.

The 50th day, which itself is not counted, is the festival of Shavuot, and in this way, we connect Pesah, the festival of physical freedom,  with Shavuot, the festival of spiritual freedom.  There is a particularly bothersome halakhic ruling when it comes to Sefirat HaOmer.  If one day of counting is missed, we may continue to count, but without the blessing, as if the counting itself wasn’t really kosher.  And it bothers many people as it feels like a punishment, and an excessive one at that, to have to forego the blessing for one slip of a count.  What’s going on here?

We live in an era when spirituality is often identified as the essence of authentic religious life.  In other words, in order to perform a ritual fully, it has to be done with meaning and intention.  A person has to walk away from it with a sense of fulfillment and so forth.  I do not disagree with this perception of authentic religion, but I am forever reminding people that it is only one of many.  Suppose one perceived of religious ritual as a duty to be fulfilled, a discipline if you will.  In this case, rituals could be performed rather mechanically and even mindlessly, providing no particularly meaningful experience at the moment, but meaningful perhaps from a broader context of how life is to be lived and how community’s must run.  Very often, halakhic prescriptions follow this more duty-bound perception of religious tradition.  This, I believe, is what we are dealing with when it comes to the counting of the Omer.  The Torah wants us to count, and so we do.  And since the mitzvah is to count each day for 49 days, the rabbis wanted to be sure that the count wasn’t—

1,2, 4, 7, 9, 13…

but rather—

1, 2, 3, 4, 5…

For the rabbis, Omer is a discipline as is so much of religious tradition.  But for a tradition to guide us in the way we wake up in the morning and go to bed at night, the way we eat, the way we use our free time, is a powerful conception of religion worthy of our admiration. 

We count consistently each day, and should we miss a day, then there are some consequences for our lack of discipline.  All our failures should result in consequences so innocuous!


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