How to Count the Omer

A guide.

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Today is thirteen days, which is one week and six days of the omer

The inclusion of both the day (thirteen) and the week (one week and six days) stems from a rabbinic argument about whether the Torah mandates counting days or weeks. On the one hand, the biblical text instructs, "you shall count fifty days;" on the other hand, the text also says to "count. . . seven complete weeks." The compromise position, manifested in the ritual, is to count both days and weeks.

The blessing for counting the omer, as well as the language for each day of counting, appears in most prayer books at the end of the text for the evening service.

Because the blessing should precede the counting (and not the other way around), many Jews will not say what day of the omer it is until after the ritual counting. Thus, the reminder about what day to count is often phrased as "yesterday was the fifth day of the omer."

Many people precede the counting of the omer with a meditation that states one's intention to fulfill the commandment. This meditation serves to focus the individual on the task at hand and to remind him/her of the biblical basis of the commandment:

Hineni muchan um'zuman l'kayem mitzvat aseh shel s'firat ha'omer k'mo shekatuv baTorah:  Us'fartem lakhem mimaharat hashabbat miyom havi'echem et omer hat'nufa, sheva shabbatot t'mimot tihiyenah. Ad mimaharat hashabbat hash'vi'it tisp'ru chamishim yom.

Behold, I am ready and prepared to fulfill the mitzvah of counting the omer, as it says in the Torah: You shall count from the eve of the second day of Pesach, when an omer of grain is to be brought as an offering, seven complete weeks. The day after the seventh week of your counting will make fifty days.

Whoops. . .

One rabbinic debate considers whether there is one cohesive mitzvah to count seven weeks and fifty days or whether each night of counting constitutes a separate mitzvah. This debate would seem immaterial, if not for the proscription against reciting a blessing "in vain"--that is, not for the purpose of doing a mitzvah.

If there is a separate mitzvah to count each night, then forgetting one night would have no effect on one's ability to count subsequent nights. If, however, there is one collective mitzvah to count the entire period, then missing one night disrupts the entire count.

The rabbis effectively split the difference, and conclude that a person who forgets to count the omer on a particular night may count the next morning without reciting a blessing, and then may continue counting as usual--with a blessing--that night.

If, however, one forgets to count the omer at night and also forgets to count in the morning, one should still count the omer on every subsequent night, but should no longer recite a blessing before counting.

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Rabbi Jill Jacobs

Rabbi Jill Jacobs is the Executive Director of Rabbis for Human Rights-North America. She previously served as the Rabbi-in-Residence for the Jewish Funds for Justice.