Let’s be honest: I’m thirty-four years old and have never once in my life successfully counted the omer.
There’s been years when I’ve tried and even more years when I didn’t begin at all. But when I was assigned to write something creative about the omer, I found myself shining the light on this dusty corner of my Jewish practice, and I had questions.
Why have I never counted the Omer?
Jewish law and minhag can be pretty involved or outright persnickety. Pick up crumbs while juggling a spoon, a feather, and a candle–seemingly physically impossible–but I’ve done it. Tie four fringes in an eye-squinting pattern of knots that would rival the boy scouts–no problem.
Say a one sentence prayer + a one sentence number once a day for 49 days? A practice that amounts to about 30 seconds daily? Nope. Can’t do it. Won’t do it.
One major excuse /reason that immediately comes to mind is the seeming randomness of it: what are we counting and why?
I don’t find the original biblical context compelling (marking the cycle of planting and harvesting grain) nor do I like the kabbalistic practice of attaching vesseled elements of God (sefirot) to different days–this seems to be an over-complication of divinity–isn’t unknowable enough? Is it about mourning every past Jewish tragedy? Don’t we already have at least two other holidays for that?
With each question it was becoming more clear: it wasn’t necessarily the Omer that was the problem, it was me. I have a bad Omer-itude.
The Omer is a Habit-Forming Commandment
As I reviewed my gripes with the Omer, I began to wonder: does the Omer need meaning to be meaningful? What I mean is, if I removed the need to attach a deeper reason for the Omer, what I was left with was a simple (but somehow impossible!) habit.
And simple as they may be, no matter how good for you, all habits (flossing, exercising, taking 15 minutes to write in a journal each day) or attempts to break habits are hard. Hard to start, hard to keep. And counting the Omer, a nearly random practice performed in the privacy of your home, at night, has little built-in accountability.
The consensus from Rav Google, is that according to science it can take between 18-254 days to form a habit (though some habits, like addiction, take less time). The act of counting the Omer definitely falls into the range (and is even more realistic than the popular belief in 21 days to form a habit).
What if counting the Omer is more of an annual experiment? What if it’s an invitation from God to start a new habit (while the stakes are very low). If you can complete the 49-day Omer challenge, then what you’ve gained is the inner-strength and processural know-how to make change–in your life and in the world–one day at time.
If you duck it up and miss a day? According to the rabbis, you should still keep counting. Just don’t say the blessing. There’s always next year.