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Sefirat HaOmer - Should We Count the Omer?

Should We Count the Omer?

Countdown to a new beginning...

The Goal of the Commandment

"You shall count seven full weeks from the day after the Sabbath, from the day that you brought the sheaf (omer) 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" (Lev. 23:15-16).

Omer

The word "omer" (עמֶר) generally refers to a measure of grain. The Torah commands that an omer of new grain (called chadash) must be "waved" before the altar on each of the 49 days between Passover and Shavuot (Lev. 23:15-21). This is called the "waving of the omer," or omer ha-tenufah (עמֶר הַתְּנוּפָה). Prior to the offering of such "new grain," only produce from earlier harvests may be eaten (called yashan). This is the "firstfruits" connection. Only crops that have been first dedicated to God are considered kosher for use.

For Pharisaical Judaism, the "Counting the Omer" (סְפִירַת הָעוֹמֶר) begins on the second day of Passover (the 16th of Nisan) and continues 49 days until Erev Shavuot (this implies that Shavuot always falls on Sivan 6 on the fixed Jewish calendar). For the Sadducees (and the later Karaites), the count begins following the weekly Sabbath after Passover and ends on Erev Shavuot (this implies that Shavuot always occurs on a Sunday, though the date is not set on the Jewish calendar). In general, however, the period between Passover and Shavuot is simply called "the Omer," and the key ritual activity is sefirah ("counting"), since the primary obligation is the counting of days leading up to the festival of Shavuot. The sages interpret, "You shall count for yourselves" (סְפַרְתֶּם לָכֶם) to mean that each person should count each day of the omer out loud (usually at the conclusion of the daily evening prayer service). The formulaic blessing is: "Blessed are You, LORD our God, Master of the Universe, who has sanctified us with His commandments and commanded us to count the omer:  Tonight is the xx night of the Omer."


 

The period of the omer ends after counting seven weeks, or seven times seven days from Passover to Shavuot. The symmetry of the count (7 x 7) suggests perfection and completion. The "Jubilee" of Shavuot is a climax - first of the revelation given at Sinai, and later with the greater revelation given at Zion.  This is why the sages say that the end of the redemption process, which began at Passover, will be completed at Shavuot.  "For the Messiah is the goal (τέλος) of the law for righteousness for all who believe" (Rom. 10:4).

In the written Torah, Shavuot is not directly connected to the revelation of the Torah at Sinai, though later Jewish tradition made such a connection. After the destruction of the Temple, the sages essentially divested the agricultural aspects of the holiday and made Shavuot commemorate mattan Torah (מַתָּן תּוֹרָה), the giving of the Torah.  Later still, the Kabbalists viewed the 49 days of counting as a sort of "mystical journey" back to Sinai, or rather a journey through the human soul. Each day of the count is thought to be associated with one of seven "sefirot of God's emanations" and therefore affords an occasion to engage in moral and spiritual purification required before experiencing the dizzying heights of Sinai.  According to these mystics, just as Israel "ascended" from 49 levels of impurity before being made worthy of the revelation given at Sinai, so we too should make special efforts to grow during these 49 days of teshuvah. Each day of the sefirah is thought to correspond to a specific area for spiritual growth (i.e., one of the divine attributes that are "mirrored" in the soul can become "unplugged" from obstruction), and by meditation, repentance, and other means the soul may merit being able to "rechannel" the divine energy of the universe to behold miracles, etc.


 

In this connection we note that Lag B'Omer, the 33rd day of the omer count, is regarded as a mystical holiday in Judaism, because on this date (i.e. Iyyar 18) the Kabbalah is claimed to have been revealed to Israel -- in a manner not unlike the revelation given at Sinai.  The mitzvah of the omer is likened to a "build up" to Kabbalat HaTorah - the receiving of the Torah, and each day is thought to represent an additional "level" for obtaining greater clarity of its inner meaning.  Hence many siddurim (prayerbooks) include the following concluding paragraph after describing the ritual for counting the omer for the day:

    "Master of the Universe, You commanded us through Moses Your servant to count the Omer in order to cleanse us from our encrustations of evil and from our contaminations, as You have written in Your Torah, so that the souls of Your people Israel be cleansed of their contamination.  Therefore, may it be Your will, God, our God and the God of our Forefathers, that in the merit of the Omer-Count that I have counted today, that there be corrected whatever blemish I have caused in the sefirah. May I be cleansed and sanctified with the holiness of Above, and through this may abundant bounty flow in all the worlds. And may it correct our lives, spirits, and souls from all sediment and blemish; may it cleanse us and sanctify us with Your exalted holiness. Amen."
     

Note the Kabbalistic cosmology expressed in this closing paragraph of the traditional omer count formula. The kellipot, or "encrustations," block the hidden divine light within us which causes an "imbalance" in the emanations (sefirot) of God's attributes. We can influence God's disposition toward the world through our actions of repentance.  Our responsibility is to "clean out the pipes" so that the divine light/energy can freely flow down to us. If we mirror the positive attributes of God, the divine light will be increased; on the other hand, if we indulge in laziness or indifference, the divine light will be decreased.  The Omer period, then, is a time of revelation, or a time to move from the concealment of God's hand to a time of disclosure.

Contrary to such claims of Kabbalah, Yeshua never taught His disciples to remove "encrustations" from the soul. On the contrary, He taught that human beings were slaves to sin in need of radical deliverance and spiritual rebirth (John 8:24; 44; John 3:3-10). And though He preached teshuvah (repentance), Yeshua never suggested that people were "shattered vessels" that needed to be reabsorbed into a greater World Soul (i.e., pantheism).  Likewise, Yeshua never taught that God's hidden essence was revealed through ten sefirot (attributes), or that human nature was "parallel" to the sefirotic structure of the universe. And surely Yeshua would have objected to the claim that human beings have power to influence God or to "affect His disposition" by performing various religious rites or rituals (Mark 7:5-9). No, Yeshua was apocalyptic in his eschatology and never taught the idea of tikkun olam (repair of the world) through self-effort.  He plainly taught that He alone was the Savior of the world (מוֹשִׁיעַ הָעוֹלָם), and that salvation, spiritual life, and the ultimate healing of the world would come solely through Him...

Recently I read an article from a large Messianic ministry (that will go unnamed) that extolled the omer count and recommended its practice for Christians.  Unfortunately, the article assumed a Kabbalistic understanding of the omer and did not mention the hidden assumptions at work behind the idea of spiritual "elevation" or "works righteousness." Let me repeat here something I've written about elsewhere: Kabbalah is fundamentally opposed to the idea of salvation through Yeshua alone. Kabbalah claims that human nature is essentially a "part of god" and that "salvation" is to become like god through removing of the "kellipot" (outer shell). This is obviously not the salvation message that Yeshua came to bring, nor does it elevate the sacrifice of Yeshua as the means for obtaining eternal kapparah (atonement) healing with the Father. Since Kabbalah teaches a false system of salvation, it  needs to be exposed to Christians who are tempted to dabble in its doctrines.

How should followers of the Messiah "count the omer"?  Well, the point of the omer count was to foretell of the giving of the Holy Spirit (רוּחַ הַקּדֶשׁ) and to confirm the New Covenant of God.  The redemption process that began at Passover was indeed completed at Shavuot, and that "completion" is the revelation of God's love and deliverance for the whole world. Though the Jewish sages did not fathom the use of the otherwise forbidden leaven in the offering (Lev. 2:11), prophetically the waving of shtei ha-lechem pictures the "one new man" (composed of both Jew and Gentile) before the altar of the LORD (Eph. 2:14). The countdown to Shavuot therefore goes beyond the revelation of Torah given at Sinai and points to the greater revelation of Zion.  Yeshua removes our tumah and makes us tahor by His sacrifice as the true Passover Lamb upon the Cross; Shavuot is the fulfillment of the promise of the Holy Spirit's advent to those who are trusting in Him.  "Counting the Omer" is about being clothed with the Ruach HaKodesh (Holy Spirit) to experience and know the resurrected LORD of Glory. You can "count" on that, chaverim!


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