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The Omer of Emor 
by Rabba Kaya Stern-Kaufman

Just over two weeks ago we celebrated the holiday of Pesach- the festival of freedom/redemption. Around our family tables we enacted the journey slavery to freedom, connecting with all that enslaves us. Perhaps we liberated ourselves a little bit more from a

consciousness of slavery, from the ways we enslave ourselves through unconscious habitual devotion to repetitive patterns in our own lives.


To be free is to have a choice. The degree of our own unconsciousness expresses the degree of our enslavement. When we become awake and aware, then we have the ability to make choices and then we become truly free. Simply knowing one does in fact have a choice in every situation is the mark of freedom.


In the Passover story, the Israelites left the land of enslavement and began a journey into the wilderness toward an unknown destination. Tradition teaches us this journey lasted for 49 days and culminated in the giving of Torah at Mt. Sinai.


In this week's Torah portion- Emor- all the festivals of the Jewish calendar are listed including the commandment to count the 49 days from the day after Pesach until the 50th day which would be celebrated as a festival for the harvest of the new spring grain at Shavuot. This tradition is called counting the Omer.


Like all Jewish practices related to the calendar cycle, there is both an agricultural land based aspect to the traditions as well as a spiritual significance tied to the narrative of the Jewish people. In this case the yearly counting of the 49 days between the first barley harvest at Passover time and the first wheat harvest at Shavuot, became tied to the 49 day journey of the Israelites from Egypt to Mt. Sinai.


In both cases the expression of life renewing itself through an unfolding process over time is revealed; first physically, in the springtime cycle of nature's rising energy as barley and then wheat come to fruition and spiritually through the gradual awakening of the people out of slave mentality to the possibility of choice. At Mt. Sinai, the people make a choice as they declare - na'aseh v'nishmah- we will do and we will listen.


So too do we possess the ongoing possibility of renewing and refining ourselves as we count these days between Passover and Shavuot. Jewish mystical tradition teaches that each of the 49 days of the Omer period is linked to certain spiritual traits which we may focus upon and cultivate each day.

The beauty of the Omer counting practice, much like the practices of teshuvah/repentance in the Fall, is that it acknowledges that all growth is a process, never accomplished in one day or one season or even one year. We are all in process travelling a spiral path round and round, but never in quite the same place each year. 

And so, each spring time, after the elaborate ritual of the Passover Seder in which we become more deeply aware of the liberation struggle within ourselves and the world, then, we embark upon the 49 day journey through the wilderness of our lives. 

The Omer count as taught by Jewish mystical tradition provides a template for exploring the ways we give and withhold love and how we might create healthy boundaries with compassion. It guides us to explore our capacity for endurance and humility in relationships, to consider how we negotiate intimacy and bonding and supports us in discovering our own sense of personal sovereignty and dignity.  

Today is the 18th day of the Omer whose quality is

Netzah she'b'Tiferet- Enduring Compassion- we are challenged to ask ourselves: Does my capacity for compassion endure even when faced with a person I dislike? Am I able to access compassion for another even when I am busy, distracted and focused on tasks I want to accomplish?


When I am sitting at my computer, engrossed in my work and my child or husband comes to me asking to be seen and heard, amazingly, I experience a struggle to stop working for that moment. How many times do I ask them to wait for me, when all that is needed is a moment for me to open my heart and just be there. How simple it is to just be there in that moment, when another soul is quietly asking to be received.

The Omer count calls on us and pushes us to a deeper recognition of how we might better embody the Divine attributes of lovingkindness, strength, compassion, endurance, humility, bonding and dignity.


This is the Torah of relationships and of consciousness. It is rooted in one's capacity for honesty, self- examination and the essential freedom to choose to become..


In Sh'mot/Exodus - Moses asks God by what name he should call God when speaking of the Divine encounter.

God responds- Ehyeh asher Ehyeh- I will be that which I will be..

The Divine defines itself as a dynamic process of becoming.


This Omer count from Passover to Shavuot has often been described as a ladder, counting up, not down, to the moment in which revelation becomes a possibility.

As we commit ourselves to becoming,

to entering into a process of opening and refining the heart,

to balancing the desires to serve the Self and others,

we come more into contact with our own Divine nature.

In this sense do we become the conduits for revelation.

As we cultivate the Divine light within,

So may it shine more readily and brilliantly into our world.