With this in mind, we can look differently at the period of the Jewish calendar we find ourselves in now, the period we call Sefirat HaOmer, the counting of the Omer. When the Temple in Jerusalem stood, an omer (Biblical measure equalling approximately 3.6 liters) of one's new barley crop was brought as an offering each day between Pesach and Shavuot, as is commanded in the Book of Leviticus. Although today we do not bring barley offerings, we do still count the days--49 of them--beginning on the second night of Passover and continuing until we celebrate standing at Sinai and receiving the Torah on the Festival of Shavuot.
Typically these 49 days are seen as a period of semi-mourning, most famously because during this period of time, it said that a plague befell the students of the great scholar, Rabbi Akiva. In Israel, this is a tenuous time for agriculture as all are conscious of the hamsin (hot winds similar to Santa Ana winds) that have the potential to destroy crops.
Whatever our reason, this period is one during which our tradition teaches us not to take one single day for granted. Each evening, the ritual begins with a blessing followed by announcing the number of the day. This time has the potential to be one for gathering with loved ones and savoring just the moment of being together. We can take time to reflect on the idea that the gift of our lives is a blessing we want to recognize every day or that what we do each day "counts." We are not powerless to make a difference in the world. Certainly, life may bring us circumstances on any given day that cause us to feel these realities more poignantly. Nonetheless, it is also easy to forget how precious our lives really are. The counting of the omer simply creates the time and space for us to practice living out the words of the Psalmist: "Teach us to number our days so that we may acquire a heart of wisdom." (Psalms 90:12)
Interesting to Note
Only one day among the 49 gives us pause from this serious reflection and semi-mourning. The rabbis designated the thirty third day (lamed-gimel or Lag B'Omer) as a day to rejoice. Those who observe the customs of not cutting hair or not celebrating weddings during the Omer period relax those restrictions on this day. This year Lag B'omer falls on Sunday, May 14. What is Lag B'Omer?
How can a Lag B'Omer haircut become a mitzvah?
Listen to a musical setting of the words of Psalm 90 (Treasure Each Day).