The poetic meditations in this collection are musings from my own practice of counting the Omer. The Omer is a forty-nine day period between the holiday of Pesach, which celebrates freedom, and Shavuot, which observes the receiving of Torah. During this time Jews traditionally count each day and recite a special blessing for doing this practice.
I was first introduced to the practice of counting the Omer in the 1980’s when a visiting rabbi, Yonassan Gershom, led a weekend of teachings for Lomdim, a community in Chicago of which I was a member at the time. I was immediately taken by the idea. The practice has a rich cultural history and spiritual resonance that easily blend Judaism’s ancient agricultural roots, medeival mystical innovation, and modern social and spiritual sensibilities. It proved to be a perfect combination for me as a spiritual seeker who was, and is, also dedicated to social change.
In 2006, I attended a seminar taught by Rabbi Zalman Schachter-Shalomi. He mentioned the idea of counting in a similar way for the seven weeks that lead up to Rosh Ha-shana, the Jewish new year. He had heard of this idea from Cantor Michael Esformes, who recommended counting down from forty-nine at this time. As I began to do this, I found myself writing poems, which turned into meditations, and finally became the substance of this book.
I am using the term Omer/Teshuvah or Omer Teshuvah for the practice of counting down to the new year. This counting begins immediately following Tisha B’av, which commemorates the destruction of the ancient Temple in Jerusalem. The Hebrew word teshuvah refers to turning or returning. It is used to describe the process of soul-searching and forgiveness that Jews engage in, particularly during the High Holy Days in the Fall, and during the weeks which precede them.
You are invited to use all or any of the poems here to help you in your own spiritual journey during the Omer, or Omer/Teshuvah, or at any other time.
Agricultural Roots, Modern Sensibilities
In Jewish tradition, the counting of the Omer represents a period in ancient days when the people would travel to the Temple in Jerusalem to make offerings from their spring harvest. At Pesach (Passover) they would bring an offering of barley to the Temple from the early spring harvest. Seven weeks later they would bring an offering of wheat from the late spring harvest. After the destruction of the Temple, people came to observe the end of the seven weeks as the ritual anniversary of receiving the Torah at Mt. Sinai. This observance is the holiday we call Shavuot.
These agricultural and communal origins of the Omer make it an excellent opportunity for considering our relationship to each other, to the Earth that sustains us, and to the Source of All Life that blesses our own lives each day.
Jewish mystics of the sixteenth century devised a way to count the Omer by invoking seven attributes of God. Each of these attributes, or sefirot, is needed for us to have a healthy balanced life. The seven sefirot are:
Strength / Discipline (Gevurah)
Harmony / Beauty (Tiferet)
Splendor / Humility (Hod)
Connection / Binding (Yesod)
Sovereignty / Divine Presence (Malkhut / Shekhina)
Each week of the Omer is represented by one of these qualities. Each day of the week is as well. So on each day of the Omer, a practitioner can focus on two particular qualities.
For example, the first week is symbolized by Chesed, which represents loving-kindness. The second day of each week is symbolized by Gevurah, which represents strength and discipline. So on the second day of the first week a practitioner might meditate on what it means to maintain healthy boundaries in our lives even as we open our hearts to the presence and potential of love.
Each attribute is sometimes referred to in the kabbalistic literature as a gateway to Divine Presence. These gates are like guideposts, an opportunity to re-orient oneself on the trail of life, to attune actions and spirit.
How to Count the Omer
Traditionally, the Omer is counted in the evening, since sundown is the beginning of the day on the Jewish calendar. The practitioner says a blessing, and then announces the day that is being counted.
The traditional blessing is:
בָּרוּךְ אַתָּה יְיָ, אֱלֹהֵינוּ מֶלֶךְ הַעוֹלָם, אָשֶר קִדְשָנוּ בְּמִצְוֹתָיו וְצִוָנוּ אַל סְפִירַת הַעֹמֶר
Baruch ata YHVH, eloheynu melech ha-olam, asher kidshanu b’mitzvotav vitzivanu al sefirat ha-omer.
Blessed are You, YHVH, our God, Sovereign of the Universe, that sanctifies us with the holy deed of counting the Omer.
There are many wonderful calendars available that can help you keep track of the day. I highly recommend the book “Counting the Omer: A Kabbalistic Meditation Guide” by Min Kantrowitz. It is a highly practical and informative resource filled with rich spiritual teachings and guidance for counting the Omer. There are also numerous guides and apps to choose from online.
Using These Meditations
Each poem includes at the top the qualities being invoked for that day, the number of the “gate” that is represented by it, and the day and week for counting either the Omer or Omer Teshuvah.
Some people find that it serves them best to use these meditations in the evening. Others use them in the morning as a way to set an intention for their activities that day. Still others dip into the poems as needed for support on their spiritual journey. Experiment, and find what works for you. That is how you will make meaning from this process and reap the benefits of the Omer’s rich spiritual soil.
A Note On Omer Teshuvah
To count the Omer Teshuvah, go to the end of the book and make your way back to the beginning, counting down from Day 49 to Day 1.
The Love of the Journey
You will find that on pages 14 and 15 there are two poems representing Chesed within Chesed (loving-kindness within itself.) This quality is the focus at the beginning of the beginning of the Omer journey, and the end of the Omer Teshuvah. It is my hope that these and other meditations in this collection can serve as guideposts and reminders of the love and discovery which are always available to us when we pay attention.
May your spirit be nurtured by kindness and curiosity, and your life be filled with the blessings of freedom, wisdom, and an ever-deepening connection to the world around you.
B’chesed (With love),