As is the case every year at this time, I was asked this week, “Rabbi, why do we count the ‘Omer?” In classic rabbinic form, I answered, “Because the Torah tells us to.” I know that’s not a particularly helpful answer, and while I always enjoy connecting the counting period between Pesah and Shavuot to the anticipation of receiving the Torah, I want this year to find more reasons!
You might be amazed to know that the Rabbis assigned all kinds of miraculous power to the mitzvah of Sefirat Ha’Omer. In one ancient sermon, we have a collection of statements that say “Don’t treat the counting of the Omer lightly,” which a rabbi would only say if…people were treating it lightly. Rabbi Yohanan said that were it not for Avraham’s devotion to this commandment, he never would have merited inheriting the Land of Canaan. Rabbi Yehoshua ben Levi connected it, and the barley that the Torah instructs us to bring (an Omer‘s worth, whatever that means) to Israel’s miraculous victory under the leadership of Gideon (Judges 7:13). Rabbi Shmuel ben Nahman said it that the Omer helped save the people during the rule of King Hezekiah (Isaiah 30:32).
But most famously, the Omer plays a supporting role in the story of Purim. By “famously,” I mean that I never heard of this legend until this week, and I’m guessing you hadn’t either. Now you can leaf through your copy of the Megillah all you want and you won’t find the word Omer in there (it’s tied with God for number of mentions in the book–zero). So what’s the connection between the Omer and the story of Purim? Come hear more on Shabbat morning. And once you learn this great hidden gem of our tradition, we might understand why it’s told in support of the commandment to count.
Wishing you a Shabbat Shalom,