Today is seven days, which are one week,
to the omer
Counting of the Omer for the 8th day of Passover
There was once a people who lived in a deep valley ringed
by high mountains. A perpetual mist, trapped by the mountain
walls, hung over the valley, allowing only a dim light to
penetrate. Generation after generation were born, lived and
died in this gray world.
The old men of the valley told stories of a brighter, warmer
world beyond the mountains, a world made joyous and beautiful
by a thing called the sun. At times, a listener
of these stories would be inspired to set out for this sunlit
world. But the mountains were steep, the trails treacherous,
the maps uncertain, and the goal but a fanciful idea. They
all came back empty-handed.
One day, a mighty wind forced a breach in the cloud-cover
and, for a fleeting minute, the valley was flooded with light
and warmth. For the first time in their lives, the people
of the valley beheld the face of the sun. Then the wind receded,
the breach was closed, and once again they were in their familiar,
So this is the sun! exclaimed the people of the
valley. This is sunlight! This is what it is like to
live a life of light, beauty and joy! We must leave this dark,
cold place. We must set out for the sun-blessed world beyond
So the people began climbing out of the valley. The mountains
were as steep as ever, the trails as fraught with hardship
and uncertainty. But whenever they faltered in their path,
whenever they began to doubt the attainability of their goal,
they would remember that moment of sunlight and it would drive
them to press on. Inspired and prodded by that vision, they
climbed out of the clouds to the world of the sun.
The Climb to Sinai
For two hundred and ten years, our ancestors lived in darkness.
Enslaved by the Egyptians, the most debased society to ever
dwell upon the face of the earth, the Jews inhabited a spiritual
fog which shut off every vestige of manifest G-dliness.
Their elders spoke of an age-old promise, made by the G-d
of their fathers, that they would one day leave this sunless
world. They spoke of a mountain top upon which G-d would show
Himself to them, take them to Him as His chosen people, and
grant them His Torah, the revelation of His wisdom and will.
They spoke of a land, basking in the light of divine providence,
in which they would fulfill their destiny as a light
unto the nations.
But this was little more than a fantasy. The darkness of
their world seemed impregnable. They had no idea what this
place in the sun was like, much less how to get there.
Then, at the stroke of midnight on Nissan 15, 2448 (1313
bce), a breach opened up in the clouds of their exile and
they beheld the face of their Creator. On that night, the
Holy One, Blessed be He, revealed His very self to them and
G-d, of course, could have simply lifted them out of Egypt
and brought them to Mount Sinai that very night. But He wanted
it to be their journey, their achievement. So after that momentary
vision, the face of G-d receded.
Then began the arduous climb to Sinai. The Jews were out
of Egypt, but Egypt was still deeply imbedded within them.
For seven weeks they struggled to refine the seven traits
of their souls, to cleanse it of the profanity of Egypt and
make themselves worthy candidates for the divine choice.
This was something that they had to achieve on their own,
in the darkness of their deficiencies and the coldness of
their alienation. But it was that initial vision of the divine
light that inspired, encouraged and drove them in their journey.
Each year, on the first night of Passover, we commemorate
the events of the night of the Exodus. Through the seder
observances, we reexperience the liberating vision that impels
our annual emergence from our personal Egypt and
drives our internal liberation from slavery to freedom,
from darkness to a great light.
But the revelation of the Exodus is but a brief, momentary
flash. On the following day we begin our 49-day trek to Sinai,
reenacted every year with the Counting of the Omer.
Beginning with the second night of Passover, we count the
days traversed from the Exodus, chronicling the milestones
and stations of our journey of self-refinement.
The 50th day is the festival of Shavuot, when we once again
stand at Sinai to receive G-ds Torah and be chosen as
His very own kingdom of priests and holy nation.
Days and Weeks
In commanding us to count the days from Passover to Shavuot,
the Torah instructs:
You shall count for yourselves from the morrow of the
Shabbat, from the day on which you bring the omer offering,
seven complete weeks they shall be; until the morrow of the
seventh week, you shall count fifty days... And you shall
proclaim that very day a holy festival...
In other words, not only the days, but also the weeks are
to be counted. Thus, on the seventh day of the count we say,
Today is seven days, which are one week, to the omer;
on the 25th day we say, Today is twenty-five days, which
are two weeks and three days, to the omer; and so on
to the last night of the count, when we say, Today is
forty-nine days, which are seven weeks, to the omer.
Indeed, the very name of the festival that culminates the
count, Shavuot, means weeks, emphasizing that
it is the product of the seven- etc.) making a total of week
count from the second day of Passover.
Kabbalistic teaching explains that there are seven basic
impulses in the heart of man: chessed (love, benevolence);
gevurah (restraint, awe, fear); tiferet (compassion,
harmony); netzach (ambition, competitiveness); hod
(humility, devotion); yesod (communicativity, connectedness)
and malchut (regality, receptiveness). Each of these
traits includes nuances of all seven (e.g., chessed
of chessed, gevurah of chessed, tiferet
of chessed, forty-nine aspects to the human character.
Thus, the basic journey is one of seven weeks, each devoted
to perfecting another of our seven primary attributes. The
days are details and aspects of the weeks, a count within
a count, a journey within a journey.
The Torahs emphasis on the weeks of the omer
count gives rise to a seeming contradiction in its instructions
as to how the count is to be conducted. The Talmud devotes
a lengthy discussion to resolving this inconsistency and arriving
at a decisive interpretation of the Torahs words.
For the Torah not only instructs us to count seven weeks
from the second day of Passoverit says that these should
be seven complete weeks. This seems to
imply that the count should include seven full calendar weeks,
each running from Sunday to Shabbat. This would mean that
the festival of Shavuot will always fall on a Sundaythe
day after the seventh complete week has been concluded.
The Talmud, however, rejects this hypothesis. For the Torah
explicitly instructs, You shall count fifty days.
Obviously, then, the complete weeks of the omer
count are not the Sunday-to-Shabbat weeks that populate our
calendar, but man-made weeksseven-day units
created by our count. Otherwise, the count would, in most
years, total more than fifty days. (For example, if the 1st
of Passover occurs on a Tuesday, and we were to insist on
seven complete Sunday-to-Shabbat weeks, Shavuot
will occur on the 54th day of the count.)
But there are certain years, concludes the Talmud, in which
the configuration of the calendar is such that there is no
inconsistency, and all Torahs words are implemented
in their most literal sense. When the first day of Passover
falls on a Shabbat (as it does this year), the seven weeks
of the omer are complete in every sense: they
are fully personal weeks, each containing seven days of our
individual count; and they are complete calendar weeks, corresponding
to the seven-day cycle which G-d instituted at the very beginning
of creation, and which continues to define our experience
The Man-Made Week
But why are the Torahs instructions expressed so ambiguously,
fraught with inconsistency and open to misinterpretation?
And why is the counting of the omer so structured that in
certain years the count is more complete than
As explained above, the entire point of the omer count
is that our journey to Sinai be a personal one, the product
of our own efforts. Of course, no human achievement can equal
the perfection of the divine. But that which is granted us
from Above, however perfect and infinite, is never as deeply
appreciated or as intensely identified with as that which
we attain with our own finite capabilities. In the words of
the Talmud, A person would rather have a kav
of his own [grain] than nine kavim of his fellows.
The only truly complete weeks are G-ds
weeksthe weeks that are the product of His original
work of creation. Man-made weeks are forever bound by the
limitations and deficiencies of their mortal creator. Yet
it is man-made weeks that connect Passover and the Exodus
with Shavuot and Sinai. You shall count for yourselves,
instructs the Torah. This is your climb, your journey.
Hence the contradictionan inconsistency built in to
the very nature of the omer count. On the one hand
we are striving towards Sinai, toward our election as G-ds
chosen people. The goal is perfection: the refinement of all
seven dimensions of the heart and all their 49 subdimensions.
On the other hand, it is we who are conducting the
count; we who are struggling up the steep slopes of our valley,
we who compose and define the weeks of the omer.
The inherent paradox in these two objectives is reflected
in the contrary implications in the Torahs instructions.
On the one hand, the Torah insists on seven completeapparently
G-d-madeweeks; on the other hand, it emphasizes that
these are to be personal weeks, the product of our count rather
than of divine creation.
In truth, however, the omer count is a place where
the finite and the infinite converge, where divine revelation
and human effort combine to move a people toward their encounter
with G-d. For though the actual count begins on the
morrow of the Shabbaton the day after the
first of Passoverit is driven by the revelation of the
Exodus. Though the actual count is conducted in the valley
of human subjectivity, it is that original, momentary flash
of light that penetrates the darkness of our valley, impels
us on our journey, and empowers us to forge upwards and attain
When Passover Falls on Shabbat
So there are two elements in our every journey: that which
we receive and that which we achieve. As we traverse the quests
and climbs of life, at times one, at times the other, of these
elements dominates while the other recedes to the background.
At times, the divine influence in our lives dominates. We
sense a higher power carrying us along, granting us the understanding
and vision with which to meet lifes challenges and the
courage and fortitude to surmount them. At such times, we
appreciate that we are part of something greater than ourselves;
that our achievements are the outgrowth of a perfection that
transcends the human, reflecting the divine source of all
At other times, our selfhood and individuality dominate.
The divine influence recedes, heightening our sense of our
own strengths and weaknesses, of our responsibility for our
failures and successes. We experience difficulty and disappointment,
alienation and despair; but also fulfillment, pride, and true
identification with our achievements.
Finally, there are those moments, rare and exquisite, when
the received and the achieved coalesce in our journey: when
our vision of the sun is fully integrated into our struggle
up the mountainside. Times when we sense the enormity of what
has been revealed and granted to us and, at the same time,
fully identify with them. Times when we are not only aware
of what is divine and infinite in our lives, but when our
experience of them is an intensely personal experience, for
we have incorporated them into our self and personality.
The seven weeks of the omer count are always complete
weekscomplete in that they represent the optimum
of our personal efforts at self-perfection, and complete in
that they are driven by a vision that has the perfection of
the divine. Usually, however, these two aspects of completeness
are in conflict with each other: an overt emphasis on the
divinely granted vision will detract from our sense of fulfillment
and identification with our achievements. So the divine input
into our lives retreats to the realm of memory,
intuition and spiritual experience
to allow for our construction of wholly man-made weeks to
bridge Passover and Shavuot.
But there are certain years in which these man-made weeks
coincide with the divinely-ordained weeks of the calendar.
When the first day of Passover falls on Shabbat, each of our
weeks is also a Sunday-to-Shabbat week, alluding to a special
window of opportunity. In these years we are particularly
empowered to integrate our divine endowments with our personal
In these years, our journey from Exodus to Sinai is comprised
of seven complete weeks in every sense: weeks
that combine the perfection of the divinely granted with the
intensity of the personally achieved.
Based on the Rebbes talks, Passover 5751 (1991)
Adapted from the teachings of the Lubavitcher Rebbe by
. On the second day of Passover, the day on which
the count begins, an omer (approx. 43 oz.)
of barley was offered at the Holy Temple in Jerusalem, representing
the refinement of the animal soul of man (barley
being an animal foodcf. I Kings 5:8; Talmud, Sotah
14a) which is the objective of the count.
. Shavuot is thus the only festival that does not
have a fixed calendar date, but is defined as the 50th day
of the omer count.
(Today we follow a fixed calendar in which the month
of Nissan always has 30 days and the month of Iyar, 29 days.
Thus, the 50th day of the count, which begins on Nissan
16 (the 2nd night of Passover) always coincides with the
6th of Sivan. However, this is only because today we do
not have a functioning Sanhedrin (supreme court of
Torah law). In essence, the Jewish calendar is fixed by
eyewitness sightings of the new moon, based on which the
Sanhedrin would proclaim the new month. By this process,
which will recommence with the coming of Moshiach and the
reestablishment of the Sanhedrin, any month may consist
of either 29 or 30 days; Shavuot might thus occur on the
5th, 6th or 7th of Sivan.
For this reason, there exists a halachic
dilemma in the case of a traveler who crosses the International
Date Line during the period between Passover and Shavuot,
thereby gaining or losing a day.
Regarding all other festivals, whose dates are determined
by the calendar, an individual's loss or gain of a day is
obviously irrelevant. But since Shavuot is defined solely
as the 50th day from the second day of Passover, the question
arises: is this traveler to observe Shavuot on his
50th day, or is he to defer to the 50th day as counted by
the community with whom he is observing the festival?)
. Indeed, the Baitusim (a breakaway Jewish
sect that rejected the oral Torahthe traditional
interpretation of Torah handed down through the generations)
contended that this is how the count is to be conducted.
The Baitusim based their interpretation on the Torahs
instruction to begin the count on the morrow of the
Shabbat, which they understood as a reference to the
weekly Shabbat. The traditional interpretation, however,
is that the Shabbat to which the Torah is referring
is the first day of Passover (a festival day is also referred
to in the Torah as shabbat, for on these days
we cease from our workday labors).
. Talmud, Menachot 65b; Rashi, ibid.; Midrash Rabbah,
Kohelet 1:3; Mattenot Kehunah, ibid. In these years, the
verse instructing us to begin the count on the morrow
of the Shabbat is likewise fulfilled in its most literal
. Talmud, Bava Metzia 38a.
. Sefer HaSichot 5751, vol. II, pp. 437-440.