Not just “Counting the Omer;” also making it count…

By Nigel Savage

Friday, March 30, 2018 | 13 Nissan 5778

Dear All,

Sefirat Ha’Omer – the counting of the Omer – is rooted in the Biblical mitzvah of counting the 49 days between the Jewish holidays of Pesach and Shavuot, when the first sacrifices of the barley and wheat offerings were made. The kabbalists of Sefad added their own psycho-spiritual overlay to it. Now, here in 2018, we have the chance to take this ancient tradition and breathe powerful life into it.

Counting the Omer is the journey from “freedom from” to “freedom to.” This has never been more salient than in the West in 2018. We have – many of us – the blessings of “freedom from.” From totalitarianism or starvation or civil war. But the question of “freedom to” – freedom to what end; how do we use our freedoms; how do we not hurt ourselves from the cumulative impact of our freedoms… these are the big questions of our era.

So Saturday night – second night seder, for those of you who are sedering outside of Israel – is the start of this seven-week period. Let’s make it count.
These suggestions are rooted in all of Hazon’s work.

Week 1 (April 1-7) Chesed – kindness and the absence of boundaries. 
What does it mean to show kindness to the earth and all its inhabitants? The first week of the omer is Pesach. It’s a time of celebration. We count with love, not with heaviness.

Pesach is chag ha’aviv, the festival of spring. With a bit of luck the sun will shine. Go for a walk. Go to your local park. Use this moment of spring to reconnect with a place that you love, and be inspired – “hiddur mitzvah” – to start to beautify our world…

Week 2 (April 8-14) Gevurah – Discipline, boundaries.
The second week of the Omer starts the Saturday night that Pesach goes out. We’ve celebrated and we’ve been free – and perhaps we’ve eaten too much. Now we put away our Pesach dishes, and we bring back our chametz. But as we do that – let’s do it healthily.

So, first – just chuck out the things that actually aren’t healthy, or don’t replace them. Sauces and things with too much sugar and additives. In the words of one of the rabbis: “Eat food. Not too much. Mostly plants.”

And secondly: The Great Pacific Garbage Patch – growing and doing damage every day – is fed by the plastic bottles that we use for 30 minutes (if that) and which take a century or more to dissolve. We’re inspired by @TheBayit on their Post-Pesach Plastic Purge Challenge. Just quit plastic bottles. Soda and fizzy water. You can do it. You’ll be healthier. You’ll save money. Get a Sodastream.

Week 3 (April 15-21) Tiferet – Compassion and balance.
Share your awareness and practice with others. But do it in a nice balanced way. Don’t beat anyone over the head – including yourself. Find a way to gently encourage the people you love, live with, work with, to give up or take on practices that help to create a healthier and more sustainable world.

Week 4 (April 22-28) Netzach – Endurance. Keep going!
Keep on not eating crap and not using plastic bottles and going out to the park… And how long of a walk do you take? Go an extra 20 minutes. Do you bike? If not, try going for a gentle 2-mile ride; if you do, ramp it up a bit.

Week 5 (April 29-May 5) Hod – Humility, simplicity, beauty.
This may be a week for trying to live more simply in some way. Giving some things to goodwill? Clearing out a closet? Look around at what you may have accumulated to feel “better.”  Can we use an aesthetic, a sense of beauty and simplicity to inspire us for positive change?

Week 6 (May 6-12) Yesod – Fundamentals.
Let’s think about basic things. Food waste, for instance – fundamental to the western world we live in. But so…. wasteful.

Consider the long-term effects of the waste we can avoid putting into landfills. It’s time to compost! One other thing to do – then or now – please become a Hazon monthly sustainer. Our Sustainers are the rock upon which our work rests. It’s as fundamental as it gets. We hope that, like the people who’ve become Hazon Sustainers, you’ll feel proud and happy to know that, month in and month out, you’re supporting some of the most vital work of this moment.

Week 7 (May 13-19) Malchut – Leadership.
The last week of the Omer is the lead-up to Shavuot. We’re about to receive the Torah. Take a stand. Malchut is about playing it forwards. We each have the ability to help lead our institutions in sustainability. 

If you only do one thing to make the Omer count, be in touch with us and start a process leading up to having your institution – a synagogue, a school, a JCC, a place of work – in joining the Hazon Seal of Sustainability this fall. More than 65 institutions are already in the pilot. We’re aiming for at least 360 institutions by September 2022, and more than 1,800 by September 2029. If, together, we succeed, we will drive systemic change within and beyond the American Jewish community. If you want to be part of that, be in touch.

May we live in a time of liberation and of healthy freedom…

Shabbat shalom,
Chag kasher v’sameach,


PS Hazon has an array of sustainable Passover resources as well as a seder supplement focusing on the egg on the seder plate which we encourage you to print and use at your seder. We also want you to share with us how you’re making your Passover more sustainable.