“You shall count seven full weeks from the day after the Sabbath, from the day that you brought the Omer sheaf (sheaf) of the wave offering. You shall count fifty days to the day after the seventh Sabbath. Then you shall present a grain offering of new grain to the Lord.” (Leviticus 23:15-16)
In Jewish tradition, the Omer is considered to be a bridge that connects the Exodus from Egypt from slavery to freedom, to the giving of the Torah on Mount Sinai seven weeks later, on the holiday of Shavuot (Pentecost.) Passover and Shavuot are two of the three pilgrimage festivals when the people of Israel went up to the Holy Temple in Jerusalem to come before the Lord.
God commanded the Israelites: “Three times a year shall all your men appear before the Lord your God in the place that God will choose [God chose Jerusalem as His dwelling place], on the festivals of Unleavened Bread (Passover), the Feast of Weeks (Shavuot), and the Festival of Tabernacles (Sukkot). They shall not appear empty-handed. Each shall bring his own gift, appropriate to the blessing which the Lord your God has given you.” (Deuteronomy 16:16)
The Lord wants to bless His people with abundance, but He wants them to come to Him with the first Omer of their crop, and He will give the increase.
The three festivals are joyous times of anticipation for God’s blessings on their offerings. The time between Passover and Shavuot is truly a happy event, seven weeks of joyous celebration, believing God for a great harvest.
However, since the destruction of the Temple and the Jews dispersed to nations all around the world, the counting of the Omer has become a tradition of strict laws set by the rabbis.
Jews in the Diaspora developed laws regarding what to say and what to do. For example, one stands when counting the Omer, and begins by reciting the blessing in Hebrew translated: “Blessed are you, Lord our God, Sovereign of the Universe, Who has sanctified us with Your commandments and commanded us to count the Omer.” After the blessing, one states the appropriate day of the count, like: today is the 28-day of the Omer, and so forth for each day. He also states the week, because the biblical text instructs, “you shall count 50 days.”
Furthermore, the text also says to “count seven complete weeks.” Therefore the tradition commands to count both days and weeks with the appropriate blessings as they appear in the prayer books for the evening service. However, if a person forgets to count the Omer on a particular evening, he may count the next morning for the previous day but without reciting the blessing, and then may continue counting, as usual, that evening with the blessing.
If, however, one forgets to count the Omer at night and also forgets to count in the morning, one should still count the Omer on every subsequent night, but should no longer recite a blessing before counting.
In Judaism, the days of the counting of the Omer have become a solemn time of partial mourning. In different Jewish communities, there are different traditions regarding how much of the Omer period is spent in mourning, and what restrictions apply, for at least some portion of the days of the counting of the Omer. Behavior such as listening to live music, celebrating weddings and Bar Mitzvahs, shaving, and getting haircuts are generally forbidden. There is just one day, the 33rd day of the Omer, Lag Ba’Omer, that is a joyous day, which is treated as a minor holiday with singing, dancing, (hair cuts are allowed), and gathering around lit bonfires.
According to the Talmud (Oral Law), the reason for the mourning during the counting of the Omer is to commemorate a terrible plague that killed 24,000 of Rabbi Akiva’s students during the Omer period (a famous rabbi who lived in Israel in the 130’s CE and is considered to be one of the greatest rabbinic sages.) The Talmud explains that this horrible tragedy was a punishment because the followers of Rabbi Akiva did not respect one another. The followers were extremely learned men who devoted their lives to the Torah, mainly the Oral Law; but their lack of respect for one another caused the devastation. Jewish tradition puts great emphasis on the treatment of people one to the other. It is not enough to learn Torah and be right with God without being kind and doing good to our fellow men.
Rabbi Akiva also proclaimed Bar-Kochba as the Messiah (a false one) which led to the rebellion against the Romans in AD 132, a rebellion that failed.
As followers of Yeshua/Jesus, the True Messiah, we lift up our attention and focus on God’s Eternal Kingdom. (Colossians 3:2)
During these 50 days of counting the Omer we look forward to Shavuot (Pentecost) and pray for Spiritual Awakening with the promise of God to pour His Spirit on all people. (Joel 2:28)