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Sefirat HaOmer - Counting the Omer

Sefirat HaOmer -

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Counting the Sheaves to Shavuot

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The Torah's 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

In Jewish tradition, forty nine days – seven weeks of days – are carefully counted between the second day of Unleavened Bread and Shavuot (Pentecost or "Weeks"). This period of time is called Sefirat HaOmer (סְפִירַת הָעוֹמֶר), or the "counting the sheaves." Every day during this season a special blessing is recited naming exactly how many more days are left before the "seven weeks of days" are complete. Psalm 67 is often recited because it is composed of 49 Hebrew words which correspond to the 49 days of the Omer count.

The Hebrew Blessing

Every evening, from the second night of Passover to the night before Shavuot, the following blessing is recited before stating the count of the omer:

Blessing for the Omer

Counting the Days...

Jewish legend says that the Israelites were foretold that the Torah would be given to them exactly 50 days after their Exodus from Egypt. The people were so eager for this revelation that after their deliverance they began counting the days: "Now we have one day less to wait for the giving of the Torah!" This midrash attempts to explain why the Torah commands that the days from Passover to Shavuot are to be counted by claiming that the it commemorates the eagerness with which the Torah was received by the Israelites.

After reciting the blessing (above), we then declare the count of the omer in both days and weeks. For example, on the first day we say, "Haiyom yom echad ba'omer" (today is one day of the omer), on the second day we say, "Haiyom yom sheni ba'omer" (today is two days of the omer), but on the seventh day we say, "Haiyom shivah yamim, shehem shavuah echad ba'omer" (today is seven days, which are one week of the omer), and on the eighth day we say, "Haiyom shemonah yamim, shehem shavuah echad v'yom echad ba'omer" (today is eight days, which is one week and one day of the omer).

This continues, day by day, until we reach the 49th day, when we say, "Haiyom tishah v'arba'im yom, shehem shivah shavu'ot ba'omer" (today is forty-nine days, which are seven weeks of the omer).

After the blessing is recited and the count has been declared, it is customary to say this short prayer:

    HaRachaman hu Yachazir Lanu ("O Compassionate One! May He return for us")
    Avodat Beit HaMikdash Li'mekomo ("the Service of the Temple to its Place")
    bimhayra be'yameinu. Amen; Selah. (speedily and in our time. Amen; Selah)
     

Since Shavuot ("Pentecost") is the ultimate point of Passover (i.e., deliverance was given for the sake of the revelation of Torah), we are called to sanctify ourselves for personal revelation by engaging in these seven weeks of repentance. Each day a blessing is recited in anticipation of the climactic day of Shavuot.


Note: The Omer period is considered a time of semi-mourning in memory of a devastating plague (or losses in battle) which killed thousands of the disciples of Rabbi Akiva during the Bar Kochba Revolt (130 CE). Ordinarily, weddings, celebrations and even haircuts are avoided during this period. The 33rd day of the count (the eighteenth of Iyar) is called called Lag B'Omer and is a minor holiday since the plague in Akiva's camp was said to have ended on that day during the revolt.  Note also that the Talmud starts the count of the omer on the evening of Nisan 16, preceding the day the Omer Offering (yom bikkurim) was actually brought to the temple.

The Meaning of Sefirat Ha'Omer

According to some of the Jewish mystics, the Omer count represents the way of teshuvah, one day for each of the 49 "levels of sin" that the Jewish people had degraded into while being slaves in Egypt. Just as there are 49 levels of spiritual impurity (i.e., tumah, טוּמְאָה), so there are said to be 49 levels spiritual of purity (i.e., tahora, טְהוֹרָה). Normally a meditation is given for each of the 49 days to help you purge a sinful condition from your life in order to attain higher levels of purity (this process is sometimes called madregot ha-tahara, "the stairs of purity").


 

Since Shavuot is the ultimate point of Passover (i.e., deliverance was given for the sake of the revelation of Torah), we are called to sanctify ourselves for personal revelation by engaging in these seven weeks of repentance. Since God is holy and Shavuot is about the encounter with God, we must ready and sanctify ourselves by performing the Omer count. Each day a blessing is recited in anticipation of the climactic day of Shavuot. Counting the omer, then, is a means of preparation for the giving of the Torah to Israel -- and for being restored to God.

As Shavuot later attained a more agricultural focus, the the Omer Count was used to mark the 50th day (Jubilee) of the growing season.  A special korban (offering) that involved waving of two loaves of bread (i.e., shtei ha-lechem, שְׁתֵּי הַלֶּחֶם) symbolized the occasion. Note that this was the only time leavened bread was used by the priests for the avodah.

From a Messianic perspective, however, it is clear that God also wanted to be sure that the Jewish people did not miss something else here.  Really, could the LORD have made it any clearer in the Torah?  It's almost as if there is a dotted line pointing directly from Passover to Shavuot - a "Jubilee" of days:

Countdown to Shavu'ot

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 trust in Him. "Counting the Omer" is about being clothed with the Ruach HaKodesh (Holy Spirit) to encounter the resurrected LORD of Glory.

In later Jewish Tradition, the forty nine days between Pesach and Shavuot mark the time between the Festival of "Physical Redemption" (Passover) and the Festival of "Spiritual Redemption" (Shavuot). In the rabbinical tradition, Shavuot commemorates God's giving of the Torah to Israel at Mount Sinai, called Mattan Torah. Historically, as one of the three pilgrimage festivals (shelosh regalim), Jews from all over the world would come to Jerusalem to celebrate and reaffirm their commitment to the covenant of Moses at this time.

And such was the custom when God delivered the Substance of which the festival of Shavuot was merely a "type and a shadow." For the Brit Chadashah reveals that Shavuot is the climax of God's plan for our deliverance through Yeshua the Mashiach, the true Lamb of God (Seh Elohim). The countdown to Pentecost represents the giving of the anticipated New Covenant to mankind, since on this very day the Holy Spirit was given to form kehillat Mashiach - the Bride of Messiah.

With a touch of divine irony, during the season that Jews from around the world gathered in Jerusalem to reaffirm their commitment to the covenant of Moses, the Holy Spirit descended upon Israel to offer the promise of the New Covenant to all who will believe (see Acts 2:1-42). This new covenant makes Torah a matter of the heart, written by God's Spirit, yielding a life fruitful in the liberty given to us through the love and grace of the Lord Yeshua the Mashiach, blessed be He.

Galatians 5:22-3 (HNT)

But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace,
longsuffering, gentleness, goodness, faith, meekness, temperance:
against such there is no Torah.
(Gal 5:22-23)

Sefirat Ha'Omer and Post-Resurrection Appearances of Yeshua

Because of the resurrection and the connection to Shavuot (Pentecost), the counting of the Omer is highly symbolic for believers. All of Yeshua's post-resurrection appearances occurred within the days of the Omer count.

Some of these appearances were as follows: On the first day of the Omer, Yeshua appeared to Mary Magdalene (Mark 16:9; John 20:16-18), some other women (Matt. 28:5-10), and then to Simon Peter (Luke 24:34; 1 Cor. 15:5).

On the second day, He appeared to the two on the Road to Emmaus (Luke 24:31) and later that evening to the Twelve disciples (Mark 16:14; Luke 24:33-39; John 20:19).

A week later, He appeared to the Twelve again (John 20:26) and eight days later appeared to Thomas (John 20:24-29). Some time later, He appeared the third time to the disciples as they went back to their fishing jobs (John 21:1-14).

Later He appeared to 500 (1 Cor. 15:6) and then to James, the half-brother of Yeshua (1 Cor. 15:7). On the 40th day of the Omer, He ascended into heaven from Bethany, but before doing so, Yeshua commanded His followers not to leave Jerusalem until the promise of the Father was fulfilled during Shavuot (Luke 24:50; Acts 1:9-12).



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