Counting the Omer
Among the many Jewish customs and ceremonies which are unknown to the majority of Jews is the counting of the Omer. An Omer is a measure of barley which was cut down and brought to the Temple in Jerusalem before its destruction in 70 CE.
The Torah commands the Omer counting two times. It is found in Vayikrah (Leviticus) 23:15-16 and in Devarim (Deuteronomy or Repetition) 16:9-10.
The Omer is counted every night from the second day of Pesach (Passover) to the night before Shavuot (The Feast of Weeks), which is the festival on which we celebrate the giving of the Torah, including the Aseret Hadiberot, meaning “the ten words”, or in English usage, the ten commandments.
It is remarkable that very few Jews know that Shavuot exists and fewer yet celebrate that Holy Day, although the very existence of the Jewish people depends on it.
Jews who count the Omer say a blessing and then state the Omer in weeks and days. For example, on the 16th day it is recited, “Today is the day sixteen or two weeks and two days of the Omer.” The Orthodox Union issues a chart which shows both Hebrew and English texts used to count the Omer.
The function of counting the Omer is to relate the Exodus from Egypt with the giving of the Ten Commandments on Mount Sinai. This means that the freedom we enjoy is dependent on promoting the teachings of Torah, without which freedom would descend into chaos and destruction. Consider if any group of people could long survive unless murder, theft, adultery, lying and envy were kept in check.
This also relates to the first five “commandments”, which relate man to the universe and include the commandment to “honor your father and your mother”.
Evidently, the whole world lives by these fundamental ethics. The Buddhists, who are not associated with Judaism in any manner, nevertheless were taught by Siddhartha Gautama, the Buddah, to adhere to the five fold path, including the admonition not to kill a living thing, not to commit adultery, not to lie and steal (There is more: take a look).
Orthodox or Torah true Jews do not conduct weddings, parties, dinners or dances during the forty days of the Omer. Even haircuts are not allowed. On the 33rd day these restrictions are lifted for one day.
The Hebrew letters designating 33 are לג, which may be pronounced Lag, so that “Lag b’Omer” or the eighteenth day of the month of Iyar, constitutes a break from the tradition and weddings etc. are celebrated on that day. The legend has it that on that day the ancient Jews experienced a break in the plague which was killing many of the students of Rabbi Akibah. Akibah was a supporter of Bar Kochba, the leader of the Jewish revolt against the Romans in 135 C.E. After the rebellion failed the Romans murdered Akibah.
It was also on the 33rd day of Omer that Rabbi Simon Bar Yochai died. He was the author of the Zohar, which is the principal segment of the Kabbalah (tradition), a work of Jewish mysticism. The Kabbalah has recently received a good deal of attention because a number of Hollywood drunks have become associated with the several Kabbalah centers established in this country and in England and in Israel. These Kabbalah centers are the business of a Rabbi Berg, who has been able to convince wealthy actresses and some actors, not Jewish, to contribute large sums of money to these centers, where Kabbalah water is sold and where you can buy a card with the 72 names of God for $15.00 (See my book on Fraud published in 2007).