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סדר ספירת העומר | the Order of Counting the Omer in the Spring

"Sefirot HaOmer" by Lauren Deutsch (circles) and Aharon Varady (image), following the color correspondences of Reb Zalman Schachter-Shalomi. Each of the seven weeks and days of the Omer is represented by one of the seven lower Sephirot: Ḥesed, Gevurah, Tiferet, Netzaḥ, Hod, Yesod, and Malkhut, the creative emanations all the worlds were created and continually sustained, as taught in the Kabbalistic tradition. The first day of the Omer at the top left signifies "Ḥesed within Ḥesed." The circle below representing the second day signifies "Gevurah within in Hesed," and so forth. The forty-second circle on the bottom row marks the 42nd day of the Omer, Yom Keshet, Rainbow Day, which is "Malkhut that is in Yesod.

“Sefirot HaOmer” by Lauren Deutsch (circles) and Aharon Varady (image), following the color correspondences of Reb Zalman Schachter-Shalomi. Each of the seven weeks and days of the Omer is represented by one of the seven lower Sephirot: Ḥesed, Gevurah, Tiferet, Netzaḥ, Hod, Yesod, and Malkhut, the creative emanations all the worlds were created and continually sustained, as taught in the Kabbalistic tradition. The first day of the Omer at the top left signifies “Ḥesed within Ḥesed.” The circle below representing the second day signifies “Gevurah within in Hesed,” and so forth. The forty-second circle on the bottom row marks the 42nd day of the Omer, Yom Keshet, Rainbow Day, which is “Malkhut that is in Yesod.

Explaining the mitzvah of Sefirat HaOmer, Rabbi David Seidenberg writes:

Every night during the omer we say a blessing for doing a mitzvah and then say the count which leads us from Passover to Shavuot, from the barley harvest to the wheat harvest and, ultimately, to the first offering on Shavuot itself of wheat from the new harvest, in the form of 12 loaves. During the time the omer was counted, barley from each week would be brought into the Temple and waved as an offering, really as a prayer that the harvest would come in successfully. A possible reason why there is a custom not to shave or cut our hair during this time is to pray with our bodies for the growth of the wheat.

Each day between the beginning of Passover and Shavuot gets counted, 49 days in all, 7 weeks of seven days. That makes the omer period a miniature version of the Shmitta and Yovel (Jubilee) cycle of 7 cycles of seven years. Just as that cycle is one of resetting society’s clock to align ourselves with freedom and with the needs of the land, this cycle too is a chance to align ourselves with the rhythms of spring and the spiritual freedom represented by the Torah.

The omer count is made starting the evening of each day – when the count happens at night the blessing is said and when the count happens during the daytime the blessing is not said. After the blessing the day is counted by absolute number and by its number within each week, i.e., “Today is the thirty-third day of the omer, which is four weeks and five days” – that’s Lag Ba’omer (lamed plus gimel, ל + ג = 33).

The biggest challenge of counting the omer is that it is one long mitsvah lasting 49 days. What that means is that if you go one whole night and day without counting, the halakhah is to no longer say the blessing. Making it all the way through seven weeks without missing a day is not easy for most of us! Hence, the proliferation of calendars, websites, and widgets for counting the omer.


לְשֵם יִחוּד קֻדְשָׁא בְּרִיךְ הוּא וּשְׁכִינְתֵּיהּ
בִּדְחִילוּ וּרְחִימוּ, וּרְחִימוּ וּדְחִילוּ,
לְיַחֵד שֵׁם יוּ”ד הֵ”א בְּוָא”ו הֵ”א בְּיִחוּדָא שְלִים
בְֹּשֵם כָּל יִשְׂרָאֵל.‏
הִנְנִי מוּכָן וּמְזוּמָן לְקַיֵים מִצְוַת עֲשֵׂה שֶׁל סְפִירַת הָעֽוֺמֶר,
כְּמוֺ שֶׁכָּתוּב בַתּוֺרָה:‏
וּסְפַרְתֶּ֤ם לָכֶם֙ מִמָּחֳרַ֣ת הַשַּׁבָּ֔ת מִיֹּום֙ הֲבִ֣יאֲכֶ֔ם אֶת־עֹ֖מֶר הַתְּנוּפָ֑ה שֶׁ֥בַע שַׁבָּתֹ֖ות תְּמִימֹ֥ת תִּהְיֶֽינָה׃‏‏‏
עַ֣ד מִֽמָּחֳרַ֤ת הַשַּׁבָּת֙ הַשְּׁבִיעִ֔ת תִּסְפְּר֖וּ חֲמִשִּׁ֣ים יֹ֑ום וְהִקְרַבְתֶּ֛ם מִנְחָ֥ה חֲדָשָׁ֖ה לַיהוָֽה׃ (ויקרא כ”ג)‏
וִיהִ֤י׀ נֹ֤עַם אֲדֹנָ֥י אֱלֹהֵ֗ינוּ עָ֫לֵ֥ינוּ
וּמַעֲשֵׂ֣ה יָ֭דֵינוּ כּוֹנְנָ֥ה עָלֵ֑ינוּ
וּֽמַעֲשֵׂ֥ה יָ֝דֵ֗ינוּ כּוֹנְנֵֽהוּ׃ (תהילים צ’)‏

For the sake of the unification of the Holy Blessed One and His Shekhina,
in fear and compassion, and in love and awe,
to unify the Name Yud-Hei with Vav-Hei in perfect unity
in the name of all Yisroel.
Behold, I am prepared and ready to perform the mitzvah of counting the Omer,
as is written in your Torah:
You are to count from the end of the rest day. From the day you brought the waived Omer-offering, they [the counting] shall be seven complete weeks. Until the end of of the seventh week you shall count fifty days,[1]
May the pleasantness of my Master, Eloheinu, be upon us,
may G!d establish our craftwork for us,
our craftwork, may G!d establish.[2]


בָּרוּךְ אַתָּה יְיָ
אֱלֹהֵֽינוּ מֶֽלֶךְ הָעוֹלָם
אֲשֶׁר קִדְּשָֽׁנוּ בְּמִצְוֺתָיו
וְצִוָּֽנוּ עַל סְפִירַת הָעֹֽמֶר׃
On the second night of Passover, the first night of the Omer is counted:

Blessed are You, Hashem Eloheinu, cosmic majesty, who sanctified us with Your mitzvot and commanded us to count the omer.

Note that most Ashkenazim say “ba’omer” while Sefardim and Ḥasidim say “la’omer” when counting. Derekh agav, according to some halakhic opinions, English works fine for doing the mitzvah of counting.


יְהִי רָצוֹן מִלְּפָנֶיךָ
יְיָ אֱלֹהֵינוּ
וֵאלֹהֵי אֲבוֹתֵינוּ
שֶׁיִּבָּנֶה בֵּית הַמִּקְדָּשׁ
בִּמְהֵרָה בְיָמֵינוּ
וְתֵן חֶלְקֵנוּ בְּתוֹרָתֶךָ׃

May it be Your will,
Hashem Eloheinu,
Elohei of our ancestors,
that the Beit HaMikdash
be rebuilt speedily in our days,
and may You grant us a portion in Your Torah.

After the count, it’s a custom to recite Psalm 67, a psalms with seven verses and forty-nine words (excluding the initial introductory verse). Each word of this Psalm corresponds to each day of the Omer count. Additionally, the fifth verse has 49 letters. Similarly, each letter corresponds to each day of the Omer.


א לַמְנַצֵּ֥ח בִּנְגִינֹ֗ת מִזְמ֥וֹר שִֽׁיר׃

1 For the Leader; with string-music. A Psalm, a Song.


ב אֱלֹהִ֗ים יְחָנֵּ֥נוּ וִֽיבָרְכֵ֑נוּ
יָ֤אֵ֥ר פָּנָ֖יו אִתָּ֣נוּ סֶֽלָה׃

2 Elohim be gracious unto us, and bless us;
May G!d cause His face to shine toward us;[3] Selah


ג לָדַ֣עַת בָּאָ֣רֶץ דַּרְכֶּ֑ךָ
בְּכָל־גּ֝וֹיִ֗ם יְשׁוּעָתֶֽךָ׃

3 That your way may be known upon earth,
Your salvation among all peoples.


ד יוֹד֖וּךָ עַמִּ֥ים׀ אֱלֹהִ֑ים
י֝וֹד֗וּךָ עַמִּ֥ים כֻּלָּֽם׃

4 Let the peoples give thanks unto you, Elohim;
Let the peoples give thanks unto you, all of them.


ה יִֽשְׂמְח֥וּ וִֽירַנְּנ֗וּ לְאֻ֫מִּ֥ים
כִּֽי־תִשְׁפֹּ֣ט עַמִּ֣ים מִישׁ֑וֹר
וּלְאֻמִּ֓ים׀ בָּאָ֖רֶץ תַּנְחֵ֣ם סֶֽלָה׃

5 Let the nations be glad and sing for joy;
For you will judge the peoples with equity,
And guide the people upon earth. Selah


ו יוֹד֖וּךָ עַמִּ֥ים׀ אֱלֹהִ֑ים
י֝וֹד֗וּךָ עַמִּ֥ים כֻּלָּֽם׃

6 Let the peoples give thanks to you, Elohim;
Let the peoples give thanks to you, all of them.


ז אֶ֭רֶץ נָתְנָ֣ה יְבוּלָ֑הּ
יְ֝בָרְכֵ֗נוּ אֱלֹהִ֥ים אֱלֹהֵֽינוּ׃

7 The Earth has granted her harvest;
May Elohim, our Elohei, bless us.


ח יְבָרְכֵ֥נוּ אֱלֹהִ֑ים
וְיִֽירְא֥וּ אֹ֝ת֗וֹ כָּל־אַפְסֵי־אָֽרֶץ׃

8 May Elohim bless us;
And let all the ends of the earth be in awe of G!d.

In my practice, I reflect on the Sefirat Haomer as neither a linear progression, nor as a spiraling ascent towards Shavuot. Rather, I see the seven weeks as a seven walled maze or labyrinth. Just as the winter ends in fits and starts, my psyche seeks some natural rhythm to guide it along with the rest of Nature into wakefulness. I share in an ancient deep apprehension whether the fields will yield a healthy and abundant crop and whether the pregnant animals will safely give birth to their offspring.[4]

After Psalms 67 is read, many recite the deeply mystical tkhina (petitionary prayer), Ana B’khoach. Many of the themes of Psalms 67 are repeated in this prayer. Ana b’Koaḥ, contains seven lines and forty-two words, with each initial letter forming a 42-letter name of G!d. Counting each word together with the seven acronyms formed from the first letter of each line yields forty-nine words to correspond with each day of the Omer.

You can listen to different melodies for Ana B’Koach at neohasid.org. You can learn more about my take on Ana B’Koach as it relates to the Omer, here.

Image: Map of Jericho in 14c Farḥi Bible by Elisha ben Avraham Crescas (Public Domain)

Image: Map of Jericho in the Farḥi Bible by Elisha ben Avraham Crescas (14th century, Public Domain)

When reciting אָנָּא בְּכֹחַ it is proper to look at – or visualize – the Divine Names formed by the acronyms of the words in the left column, but not pronounce them:


אב״ג ית״ץ

אָנָּא בְּכֹחַ גְּדֻלַּת יְמִינֶךָ תַּתִּיר צְרוּרָה

Please, with the power of Your great right hand
free the bound.


קר״ע שט״ן

קַבֵּל רִנַּת עַמֶּךָ שַׂגְּבֵנוּ טַהֲרֵנוּ נוֹרָא

Accept the song of Your people, empower us,
make us pure, Awesome One!


נג״ד יכ״ש

נָא גִבּוֹר, דּוֹרְשֵׁי יִחוּדֶךָ, כְּבָבַת שָׁמְרֵם

Please, Mighty One, the seekers of Your unity,
watch them like the pupil of an eye.


בט״ר צת״ג

בָּרְכֵם טַהֲרֵם, רַחֲמֵי צִדְקָתֶךָ, תָּמִיד גָּמְלֵם

Bless them, make them pure,
have mercy on them; Your justness
bestow upon them always.


חק״ב טנ״ע

חָסִין קָדוֹשׁ, בְּרֹב טוּבְךָ, נַהֵל עֲדָתֶךָ

Tremendous Holy One, in Your abundant
goodness guide Your community.


יג״ל פז״ק

יָחִיד גֵּאֶה, לְעַמְּךָ פְּנֵה, זוֹכְרֵי קְדֻשָּׁתֶךָ

Unique One, Exalted One, face Your people
who remember Your holiness.


שק״ו צי״ת

שַׁוְעָתֵנוּ קַבֵּל, וּשְׁמַע צַעֲקָתֵנוּ, יוֹדֵעַ תַּעֲלוּמוֹת

Accept our prayer, hear our cry,
Knower of secrets.


בָּרוּךְ שֵׁם כְּבוֹד מַלְכוּתוֹ לְעוֹלָם וָעֶד:‏

Say in an undertone:

Blessed is the Name of the Glory of the Kingdom
forever and ever.

Rav Seidenberg continues:

Because there are seven lower Sefirot in Kabbalah associated with days of the week (and probably because of the homonym sefirah, which also means counting), there is also a custom to say which Sefirah is connected with that day and that week, i.e. for Lag Ba’omer, the fifth day of the fifth week, or Hod sheb’Hod (Hod within Hod, Majesty squared). For the first night one would therefore add: Ḥesed sheb’Ḥesed ~ “Love within Love.”

We travel from Ḥesed within Ḥesed on the second night of Passover, the night of true lovingkindness, to the 49th day of the omer, Malkhut within Malkhut, the radiance of Shekhinah. The significance of Hod within Hod is that it is the point in which physical manifestation (i.e. of the Torah or God’s presence) begins. On a mystical level this is about the Torah being prepared to be given to the people, while on the natural level it’s about the manifestation of divine blessing in the wheat crop itself.


רִבּוֹנוֹ שֶׁל עוֹלָם,‏
אַתָּה צִוִּיתָנוּ עַל יְדֵי משֶׁה עַבְדֶּךָ
לִסְפּוֹר סְפִירַת הָעוֹמֶר כְּדֵי לְטַהֲרֵנוּ מִקְלִפּוֹתֵינוּ וּמִטֻמְאוֹתֵינוּ,‏
כְּמוֹ שֶׁכָּתַבְתָּ בְּתוֹרָתֶךָ:‏
וּסְפַרְתֶּ֤ם לָכֶם֙ מִמָּחֳרַ֣ת הַשַּׁבָּ֔ת מִיֹּום֙ הֲבִ֣יאֲכֶ֔ם אֶת־עֹ֖מֶר הַתְּנוּפָ֑ה שֶׁ֥בַע שַׁבָּתֹ֖ות תְּמִימֹ֥ת תִּהְיֶֽינָה׃
עַ֣ד מִֽמָּחֳרַ֤ת הַשַּׁבָּת֙ הַשְּׁבִיעִ֔ת תִּסְפְּר֖וּ חֲמִשִּׁ֣ים יֹ֑ום וְהִקְרַבְתֶּ֛ם מִנְחָ֥ה חֲדָשָׁ֖ה לַיהוָֽה׃
עַד מִמָּחֳרַת הַשַּׁבָּת הַשְּׁבִיעִית תִּסְפְּרוּ חֲמִשִּׁים יוֹם,‏
כְּדֵי שֶׁיִּטָּהֲרוּ נַפְשׁוֹת עַמְּךָ יִשְׂרָאֵל מִזֻּהֲמָתָם,‏
וּבְכֵן יְהִי רָצוֹן מִלְּפָנֶיךָ יְיָ אֱלֹהֵינוּ וֵאלֹהֵי אֲבוֹתֵינוּ,‏
שֶׁבִּזְכוּת סְפִירַת הָעוֹמֶר שֶׁסָּפַרְתִּי הַיּוֹם,‏
יְתֻקַּן מַה שֶׁפָּגַמְתִּי בִּסְפִירָה
(…)
וְאֶטָּהֵר וְאֶתְקַדֵּשׁ בִּקְדֻשָּׁה שֶׁל מַעְלָה,‏
וְעַל יְדֵי זֶה יֻשְׁפַּע שֶׁפַע רַב בְּכָל הָעוֹלָמוֹת וּלְתַקֵּן אֶת נַפְשׁוֹתֵינוּ וְרוּחוֹתֵינוּ וְנִשְׁמוֹתֵינוּ מִכָּל סִיג וּפְגַם,‏
וּלְטַהֲרֵנוּ וּלְקַדְּשֵׁנוּ בִּקְדֻשָׁתְךָ הָעֶלְיוֹנָה,‏
אָמֵן סֶלָה:‏
 
Master of the Cosmos,
you commanded us through Moshe, your servant,
to count the Sefirat HaOmer in order to purify us from our klipot and tumot,
as you have written in your Torah:
You are to count from the end of the rest day, from the day you brought the waived Omer-offering, they [the counting] shall be seven complete weeks.
Until the end of of the seventh week you shall count fifty days,[5]
so that the lives of Your people, Yisroel, will be purified from their impurities.
Therefore, may it be your will, Hashem Eloheinu, Elohei of our ancestors,
that in the merit of the Sefirat HaOmer that I have counted today,
may there be healed any impairment of mine in the sefirah,
here say the corresponding Sefirah for the day of the Omer.
May I be purified and sanctified with the holiness of Above,
and through this may abundant shefa flow [unimpeded] through all the worlds.
And may it heal our lives, spirits, and souls from all impurity and impairment.
May it purify and sanctify us with your most precious holiness.
Amen. Selah.

Aharon Varady - Sefirot HaOmer Chart-smallThe image above was adapted from the Sefirat HaOmer Chart of Lieba B. Ruth (aka, Lauren Deutsch). I helped to make the version of the chart that corresponds to the color schema innovated by Rabbi Zalman Schachter-Shalomi (see right), which you can download, print out, and use: gratis. We hope that next year we’ll be making these available for sale to raise money for the Open Siddur Project. :)
I am so grateful to her for sharing her color coded and Kabbalistic Sefirat HaOmer chart. Please re-distribute!

DOWNLOAD: SVG (source) | PNG

I’ve also adapted Lieba’s omer circles to correspond to the days of the Omer in Neohasid.org’s Omer Widget app using Reb Zalman’s color system.

Many thanks to Rabbi David Seidenberg for sharing the code for his open source Omer Widget. You can see the code for the widget used on opensiddur.org, here, and the original Omer Widget code can be found on Neohasid.org, where Reb Dovid’s teachings above were first published.

For more on the Omer from other Open Siddur contributors, please see, Shmueli Gonzales’ post at Hardcore Mesorah, “Starting off the Spiritual New Year Right.”

Notes:

  1. Leviticus 23:15-16
  2. Psalms 90:17
  3. cf. the Priestly Blessing: Numbers 6:23–27
  4. Also make sure to take note of the Karaite tradition of beginning their calendar year with the first observation of ripe barley.
  5. Leviticus 23:15-16
 . Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike . 4.0 . International .
“סדר ספירת העומר | the Order of Counting the Omer in the Spring” is shared by Aharon Varady with a Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 4.0 International license.
Aharon Varady

About Aharon Varady


Founding director of the Open Siddur Project, Aharon Varady is a Jewish educator (M.A. J.Ed.) and community planner (M.C.P.) working to improve stewardship of the Public Domain, be it the physical and natural commons of urban park systems or the creative and cultural commons of Torah study. His work and writing have been featured in the Atlantic Magazine, Tablet, and Haaretz, as an outspoken representative of the free-culture and open-source movement in the Jewish community.

Aharon Varady serves as hierophant, welcoming new users, and administering opensiddur.org as its webmaster and editor-in-chief.

Related liturgy and liturgy-related work:

3 comments to סדר ספירת העומר | the Order of Counting the Omer in the Spring

  • Lauren Deutsch’s system of color correspondences for the sefirot mainly follows the light spectrum from red to deep blue, then black and purple. Her systems accords well with that of Mark Hurvitz’s 7×7 Color Grid for the Omer.

    In the widget code of Reb Seidenberg’s Omer Counter, I found a different color schema corresponding to the sefirot than the one that Lauren used in her chart. The correspondences are:

    Ḥesed = white
    Gevurah = red
    Tiferet = purple
    Netzaḥ = light pink
    Hod = dark pink
    Yesod = orange
    Malkhut = dark blue

    So I made an alternative graphic displaying this schema

    From my reading of Rabbi Aryeh Kaplan’s chapter “Colors” in Meditation & Kabbalah (see page 181), this system corresponds closely with that of the RAMAK in Pardes Rimonim:

    Ḥesed = White and Silver
    Gevurah = Red and Gold
    Tiferet = Yellow and Purple
    Netzaḥ = Light Pink
    Hod = Dark Pink
    Yesod = Orange
    Malkhut = Blue

    From the manuscript record, I think, the system of using colors entered into kabbalistic discourse in the School of Isaac the Blind in Gerona. Here’s Moshe Idel from Mystical Techniques, section five “Visualization of Colors and Kabbalistic Prayer” (p.104):

    The earliest texts explicitly referring to this technique are those connected to the name of R. David ben Yehudah he-Hasid, a Spanish Kabbalist of the late thirteenth and early fourteenth centuries:

    R. David said: We are not allowed to visualize the ten Sefirot, except in accordance with the rashey perakim which reach you, such as Magen David to Ḥesed and Ḥonen ha-Daat to Tiferet. Therefore, you should always visualize that color which is [attributed to the Sefirah according to] the rashey perakim, that color being the ḥashmal of the Sefirah, the ḥashmal being the covering217 [or dress] of that very Sefirah around [it]. Afterward you shall draw [downward] by your visualization the efflux [shefa] from the depth of the river to the worlds down to us—and this is the true [way], received [in an esoteric manner] by oral tradition.

    (Moshe Idel speculates that this system was probably adapted from Jewish sufis in Acco that came to Gerona in the late 13th century, adapting what they practiced from sufis that in turn adapted the system from Hindu mystics).

    I asked Lauren Deutsch about her system, specifically whether the color schema she used in this chart was something she learned from her teacher Gilla Nissan. She confirmed this was her own system.

    Andrew Shaw also reminded me of the article written by Reb Yonassan Gershom on Reb Zalman’s color schema, that also differs from that laid out by the RAMAK in Pardes Rimonim.

    Reb Zalman’s system (as expressed in his Tallis design) is as follows:

    Ḥesed = Deep and Light Purple
    Gevurah = Blue
    Tiferet = Green
    Netzaḥ = Yellow
    Hod = Orange
    Yesod = Red
    Malkhut = Brown

  • Lieba B. Ruth Lieba B. Ruth

    Wishing you a wonderful journey through the Rainbow!

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