“And from the day on which you bring the Omer (sheaf) of elevation offering – the day after the Sabbath – you shall count off seven weeks.” (Leviticus 23:15)
This passage from Leviticus refers to the counting of the Omer. The omer originally was the quantity of offering needed for the first barley offering of spring, which was approximately two quarts. According to tradition, the omer of barley was brought by the people to the Temple where it was roasted and then pounded into grits before being offered up to God. Then the Israelites would count forty-nine days from this offering to the holiday of Shavuot where they would begin the celebration of the summer wheat harvest.
Nowadays, with the Temple gone, we instead count the forty-nine days (sefirat ha-omer) from the Second night of Passover through until the night before Shavuot. By doing this, we are tied to our past and also symbolically connect Passover (the Festival of our Redemption) to Shavuot (the festival of The Giving of Torah).
The counting of the Omer is done at the evening service, and there are many regulations with regards to this procedure. For example if one forgets to count the omer at night, they should not say the blessing the next day before counting it. However if one should forget to count it all together, then that person should not say the blessing from that point forward.
Of course all of this seems so midakdeik, so filled with minutia. Why would we, with our calendars and pocket personal computers, need to count out forty-nine days? There are many possible answers to this question.
One response is that we should count the omer because it is part of our heritage and tradition as is mentioned in Leviticus, and it is always good to keep up with tradition.
A second possible reason because some scholars speculate that the forty-nine days represented just enough time for the barley to ferment, which if you think about it, adds a whole other layer to the Shavuot celebration.
But my favorite reason is because each day we count the Omer, it can also serve as a reminder to us that our days are numbered. We only have so many of them to do with what we will, and therefore, we had better make each and every day count. Though a little bit of beverage containing fermented barley during this never hurt either.
May all your days be filled with blessing, and may you strive to make each of and every one of them count.