How Do I Love the Omer? … Let Me Count the Ways
Currently, the Jewish community is in the midst of the 49-day period known as “counting the omer.” This tradition originates from two verses in Leviticus:
From the day after the Sabbath, the day you brought the sheaf of the wave offering, count off seven full weeks. Count off fifty days up to the day after the seventh Sabbath, and then present an offering of new grain to the Lord. (Leviticus 23:15-16)
In context, the “day after the Sabbath” falls during Passover week. Omer is Hebrew for a sheaf, and so the entire period has become known as “the omer.” Then, because the command is literally to “count off” seven weeks, observant Jews literally count each day, often using an “omer counter” as an aid in remembering which day it is. Forty-nine days of counting after Passover, then on the fiftieth day falls the holiday of Shavuot, better known to Christians as Pentecost (which, not surprisingly, means “fifty”).
And there are as many ways of counting the omer as there are right-brained people. At The Omer Project (www.omerproject.com) in San Francisco, groups are meeting at 49 numbered streets in the Sunset and Richmond neighborhoods to mark off the days of the omer. (“Was G-d on the City Planning Commission, or what?”, the site asks.) Can it be long before faithful Jewish 49er fans come up with a spin of their own?
At www.homercalendar.net, you can count the “Homer” instead of the “omer.” Yes, forty-nine blissful days of Homer Simpson to guide you through the omer period.
Movie fans can count the omer at www.bangitout.com/movieomer/1.html (examples: One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest for day one; Miracle on 34th Street for day 34). Go in for sports more than for films? No problem. Check out www.bangitout.com/sportsomer/1.html where uniform numbers help you keep on track.
Some draw from Jewish mystical tradition to find spiritual significance in each of the forty-nine days. While I’m not much of one for Kabbalah, I did manage to find some meaningful biblical passages related to the number 49. In the spirit of counting the omer, here are three I discovered:
Genesis 49:10 — “The scepter will not depart from Judah, nor the ruler’s staff from between his feet, until he comes to whom it belongs and the obedience of the nations is his.” This is generally recognized as a prophecy of the Messiah to come. As counting the omer anticipates the holiday of Shavuot, so followers of Yeshua anticipate his return.
Psalm 49 — A meditation on the fate of those who do and don’t trust God. Includes, “But God will redeem my life from the grave; he will surely take me to himself” (verse 15 in English, 16 in Hebrew). The Hebrew itself could be taken as either a reference to resurrection or to deliverance from premature death in this life. The former is something all believers in Yeshua can anticipate and in a way of speaking, “count the days” until we are raised from the dead at the end of time.
Luke 2:49 — ” ‘Why were you searching for me?’ he asked. ‘Didn’t you know I had to be in my Father’s house?’ ” After Passover—during the omer period—a young Jesus’ went missing until his family located him with the teachers at the Temple — “learning,” as they say in yeshiva.
There you have three “forty-nines.” Can you find 46 more for the omer period? Let us know in the comments box on this page.
Scholar in Residence, Missionary
Rich Robinson is a veteran missionary and senior researcher at the San Francisco headquarters of Jews for Jesus. Rich has written several books on Jewishness and Jesus, and he received his Ph.D. in biblical studies and hermeneutics from Westminster Theological Seminary in 1993.