So much of what counts in today’s world is what can be measured. The Torah also places value on a type of metric – quantifying time by counting days or years in various contexts, including Sefirat HaOmer, the period we are currently in. What is the significance of counting the Omer?
The source of this mitzvah is found in parshat Emor. Based on the words “u’sefartem lachem,” the midrash Sifra teaches that the mitzvah of Sefirat HaOmer falls on each individual. The sources discuss whether this requirement applies to women as well. While women were once generally considered exempt from Sefirat HaOmer, today most poskim hold that women may take on this mitzvah fully, with a bracha. Interestingly, the Shulchan Aruch also mentions a remnant of a custom where some women refrained from work each night of the Omer till the morning. Perhaps historically, this was a unique way for women to take part in the mitzvah. If a woman wishes to take on Sefirat HaOmer she too becomes part of the command “lachem,” to count for yourselves.
Why is the counting up to each individual? Various commentaries understand the purpose of counting from the day after Pesach until Shavuot as potential for transformation within a person. The Sefer Hachinuch explains that this mirrors the process which Am Yisrael experienced starting from yetziat mitzrayim and culminating with Matan Torah on Shavuot. When each individual counts the omer, s/he too is going through a process of preparation to receive and recommit to the Torah and its mitzvot and values.
When the Torah commands us to count the Omer it is not just to mark the passage of time, but to emphasize the potential each day and year brings, the imperative to make them count. Sefirat HaOmer in particular, invites all individuals to be counted in each year and to find their connection to Torah. Shabbat Shalom – Karen Miller Jackson