Meaning of Counting the Omer

Today is the 41st day of the Omer. Come next Tuesday evening, we begin to celebrate the Festival of Weeks, in Hebrew, “Shavuot.” By then, we will have ritually counted 49 full days between the beginning of Pesah and the beginning of Shavuot.

Why the counting ritual? Because the Torah so commands, as a means to make us conscious that Freedom (personified by the Exodus from Egypt) is meaningless without Torah (given to our ancestors at Mount Sinai on Shavuot). That much is clear.

But why the somber nature of the Omer period? Here the reasoning is speculative, because the Torah text itself provides no reason. In lieu, the commentator Abudraham, 15th century Spain, articulates a compelling rationale. The Omer period, he writes, coincides with the earliest segment of the crop growing season in the Land of Israel. The reduction of joy during this period accords with recognizing that God’s sovereignty encompasses control of the weather elements necessary for healthy growth.

No matter one’s personal theology, there is nothing to lose by tuning in to the spirit of the Omer period. Living in this time and place, it’s easy to take the availability of abundant food for granted. Maybe for us; not, though, for masses of hungry folks elsewhere. May the remaining eight days be meaningful for all of us, and may our solemnity during Sefirat HaOmer inspire us to help fight hunger.