Hiddur Mitzvah: Beth El's Omer Counter

Hiddur Mitzvah: Beth El's Omer Counter

Apr 27, 2018

Hiddur Mitzvah is the Jewish concept of beautifying the commandment by appealing to the senses. Ornate ritual objects engage our feelings with their sounds, fragrances, tastes, textures, colors, and artistry. These aesthetically pleasing objects enhance our observation of Jewish practice and expand the enjoyment of religious acts. In this series, we will look at several ritual objects in Beth El’s collection that are lovely examples of Hiddur Mitzvah.

On the eve of the second Passover Seder, we begin a period called Sefirah which literally means counting. “Counting the Omer,” then, refers to the 49-day period between the second night of Passover and Shavuot. This period marks the beginning of the barley harvest when, in ancient times, Jews would bring the first sheaves to the Temple as a means of thanking God for the harvest.

Counting the Omer fulfills a strange commandment in the Torah where we are commanded to “count seven weeks after the day of rest, from the day that you brought the omer of the waving, seven weeks shall there be complete” Lev23:15. The Omer itself is a measurement of barley offered as a sacrifice to God. An Omer is approximately 2.3-3.64 liters.

Over the centuries, various methods have been created to help people remember to count the Omer. Most of these counters were small and made of olive wood. Less common, though considerably beautiful, are the silver Omer counters, where a scroll containing the verses for counting would be placed in a frame of these materials.

Here at Beth El, we’re lucky to have several Omer counters, including a very special silver counter that hangs in the Gorn Chapel during the Sefirah period. Our Omer counter came to the synagogue from Israel. Renowned Judaica artist Ela Weitzman created this particular Omer counter in 1991 and included several elements in the design. Of particular note is the depiction of the harvest season and Israel’s seven sacred species, very much associated with the first fruits offered at the Temple during the festival of Shavuot. Each day, we move the needle one number closer to 49 when we celebrate Shavuot together as a community.

Speaking of celebrating Shavuot together, service times are as follows:

Saturday, May 19th

  • 7:30pm - Mincha
  • 8:00pm - Panel
  • 9:00 - Dessert Nosh
  • 9:30p - Ma’ariv
  • 9:40 - Group Torah Study

Sunday, May 20th

  • 10:00 am - Morning Services
  • 12:00pm - Brunch Kiddush & Ice Cream
  • 6:00pm - Evening Services

Monday, May 21st

  • 10:00am - Morning Services (Yizkor recited)
  • 12:00 - Italian Kiddush with sundae