Friday, April 25, 2014

SEFIRAT HAOMER: When does the new Jewish day begin?

Yesterday we explained that the counting of the days of 'omerconnects the Holiday of Pesah, the commemoration of our physical freedom, with Shabu'ot, the day we received the Tora.  Without getting out of Egypt, it would not have been possible for us to become God's chosen people. In Egypt we were, albeit involuntarily, under the command and laws of Pharaoh.  Only once we were set free (beshallah) by Pharaoh we were at liberty to choose to be under God's commandment, accepting to become His chosen people by receiving the Tora. 
The days of the Omer are counted at night. Because for us Jews, the new day starts at night. 

At what precise moment the new day starts and at what time the previous day ends is a complicated technical Halakhic matter. 

Very briefly: there are two possible astronomic indicators for the new day
  1. Sunset, when the sun disappears from sight 
  2. Nightfall, which is marked by the visibility of stars in the sky. 

All Rabbis agree that before sunset it is still considered day # 1, and most Rabbis agree that after three medium stars are visible it is considered day #2.  The time in between sunset and the appearance of the three stars is known as the twilight zone or in Hebrew, ben hashemashot. This time-period fluctuates between 15 min (13 ½ to be precise) to 30 minutes or more, depending on many variables such as geographic location, year's season, etc. Regarding Shabbat, for example, we take the strictest stand by receiving Shabbat always before sunset and ending Shabbat after three medium stars are visible.

In most Sephardic communities the starting time to count the 'omer is 15 minutes after sunset. In exceptional circumstances Rabbis would authorize to count with Berakha earlier, but never before sunset.

Shabbat Shalom!

Candle lightning in NYC           7:26  pm
Shabbat ends in NYC                  8:27 pm

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 from The Jewish Press

Thursday, April 24, 2014

OMER: What is Sefirat ha'Omer?

In the times of the Bet haMiqdash (Temple of Jerusalem), during the second day of Pesah, an offering was presented in the altar of the Temple which consisted of one 'omer of barley-flour, signaling that from that moment the Jews were allowed to consume from the new grain harvest (hadash). 'omer is a Biblical unit of measurement, approximately one gallon, and by extension it became the name of that offering ( מנחת העומר). 

The offering of the 'omer at the beginning of Pesah also initiates a period of seven weeks, or forty-nine days, from Pesah until the holiday of Shabu'ot (Lev.  23:15-16).

Sefirat ha'omer is the Mitzva of counting these 49 days. Thus, the Holiday of Pesah, our physical or political freedom, is connected with Shabu'ot, when we achieve our mental, spiritual and cultural freedom by receiving the Tora.  

In a sense, this period of 49 days is a kind of a very long Hol-haMoed, an extension of Pesah, reaching out to Shabu'ot. Our Rabbis explained that unlike physical freedom, mental freedom does not happen overnight. It is a long process of deprograming. In the case of the people of Israel it consisted, among other things, of getting rid of all the habits of a slave-mentality and learning to take charge of their own lives. They also had to recognize and leave behind the pagan and immoral practices of the idol-worshipping Egyptian society (tum-a), which were obviously incompatible with the values of our Tora. 

In Pesah we celebrate that we got out of Egypt. And during the days of 'omer we had to get Egypt out of our system and minds, in preparation for receiving the Tora and establishing a covenant (berit) with HaShem at Mount Sinai.
The counting of the Omer takes place at night and it is preceded by the blessing: ... asher qiddeshanu bemitsvotav vetsivanu 'al sefirat ha'omer. Then we proceed to count the days and the weeks. Today, for example, is the ninth day of the 'omer, that is: one week and two days from the 'omer.  

"Halakha of the day en Español"