Counting the Omer

Ethics of the Fathers (Pirkei Avot)

There is an ancient custom from Talmudic times to read Pirkei Avot the (Chapters of the Fathers) in instalments on Sabbath afternoons, from the Sabbath following Pesach until that preceding Rosh Hashanah. (The Sephardic custom is to read this from Pesach until Shavuot.) The purpose of reading this is to encourage Jews to observe the Torah and do good deeds.

Mourning and sadness during the period

Rabbi Akiva was said to have had twelve thousand pairs of students – and all of them died in one short period, because they did not respect one another!. 'And all of them died between Pesach and Shavuot.'
(Talmud Yevamot 62b)

Pesach Sheni (Second Pesach )

Anyone who was not ritually clean, or who was on a journey, and therefore could not offer the korban Pesach (Pesach sacrifice) at the correct time, could bring it a month later, on the 14th of Iyar. The general principle that a sacrifice cannot be brought after its specified time does not apply to the korban pesach in this case.

Lag Ba'Omer

The thirty-third day of the Omer is the day of celebration of Rabbi Shimon bar Yohai. The People of Israel made this a festival during the days of mourning that precede and follow it, because early sources stated that none of Rabbi Akiva's students died on that day.

There is a very old tradition that this is the anniversary of the death of Rabbi Simon bar Yohai, on which day there was a great celebration of the secrets of Kabbalah that he taught his students, and which were set down in the Zohar.


  1. Shavuot is the celebration of the end of the wheat harvest: From when the sickle starts to cut the standing corn, you shall begin to count seven weeks, and then observe the Festival of Shavuot. (Deuteronomy 16:9-10)
  2. Bikkurim are not brought before Shavuot. (Mishnah Bikkurim 1:3) (Note: this refers to the private individual bikkurim, not the public offering which was only brought on Shavuot.)
  3. The time of the Giving of the Torah. The liberation of the Children of Israel was not completed with the Exodus, since the slavery was both physical and spiritual. The Exodus was merely physical liberation; the final aim was to bring Israel to spiritual liberation at the Revelation at Mt. Sinai, so that Shavuot is the completion of the liberation cycle for the People of Israel.
  4. The command to help the poor is mentioned alongside Shavuot: And when you reap the harvest of your land, do not complete[the reaping of] the edge[s] of your land ... you are to leave them for the poor and the stranger: I am G-d your G-d! (Leviticus 23:22) (Note: it is the ‘edges’, and not merely the 'corner' as often taught.) This highlights the moral basis of concern for the welfare of others.

Key Words and Phrases

  Song Concept Symbols Customs Laws Prayers Names
Akdamot Liturgy              
Bikkurim (first produce)              
King David              
Harvest Festival              
The time when our Torah was given              
The Day of the Bikkurim              
Lag Ba'Omer              
The Two Tablets of the Law (or of Moses)              
Dairy food              
Book of Ruth              
The Omer              
Giving of the Torah              
Pesach Sheni(Second Pesach)              
Pirkei Avot (Chapters of the Fathers)              
Rabbi Akiva              
Rabbi Shimon bar Yohai              
The seven types of produce              
The three days of separation              
Tikkun Leil Shavuot (Night of Vigil)              

When Moses told the Israelites in Egypt 'You will worship G-d', they asked him 'When?' He replied: 'At the end of fifty days'. Everyone counted individually. Hence, the rabbis explained the basis of the mitzva of counting the Omer as follows: The whole basis of Israel is the Torah, the receiving of which was the prime reason for the liberation from Egypt. This is a greater issue for Israel than mere liberation from slavery. They were therefore commanded to count from the day after the [first day of the] Festival of Pesach until the day of the Giving of the Torah to show their desire for the Great Day, the day when the Torah was given.

The Omer

Rabbi Judah quoted Rabbi Akiva as follows:

'Why does the Torah ask us to bring the Omer on Pesach? Because Pesach is the time when there is produce. G-d told us to bring the Omer on Pesach so that the produce in our fields may be blessed.'
(Beraitha, quoted in Talmud Rosh Hashanah p. 16)

New Produce

New produce of barley, wheat, spelt (a type of wheat), rye and oats may not be eaten until the 16th of Nisan, the day on which the Omer is brought. The mitzva of bringing the omer (of barley, which is the earlier crop) corresponds to that of the bikkurim (two loaves of wheat, the later crop) on Shavuot, and symbolises the recognition of G-d's goodness as Lord of the Universe.





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05 Jan 2006 / 5 Tevet 5766 0