Counting the Omer is not just a mitzvah, but is a mitzvah based in Kabbalah. We are instructed to count the Omer, but what are we counting? Why count 49 days of the Omer at all?
Kabbalah teaches us that there are 50 gates of return to HaShem. The 50th gate is not accessible to us, meant for G-d to return to us, while we have access to the other 49 gates. Anyone worthy of return to HaShem must return through one of these gates and only the gate selected for them. How do we find the right gate? How do we ensure we are worthy of returning at all? One practical way is to recite Tehillim every day. There are many different reading plans; I prefer the monthly reading plan.
This post would be incomplete if it were merely a Kabbalah post. In fact, it’s perfect for Kabbalah Pod in that case. So, let’s engage the numerology a bit more. 49 is very significant with Judaism, both as itself and as a product of multiplication.
This concept of 49 is not found solely in the shaarie teshuva (gateways of repentance). The total letter sum of the names of the twelve tribes is 49 as well. We see 49 present Sefiros (as mentioned) and also the Year of Jubilee (we don’t just count the days – we also count the years). Even more so, we have 7 x 7 = 49. Both of these numbers are important. Seven is the representation of a form of completion that is beyond the nature and ability of mankind.
Weeks are 7 days long, six days of labor and one day of rest. Years for the land are 7 years long, six years of labor and one year of rest. Seven also plays a significant role within Judaism (in Gematria). We have 7 Patriarchs, 7 Matriarchs, 7 Laws Bnei Noach…the list goes on.
The number is a sense of completion. A completion we can’t do on our own. So while we count the 49 days of the Omer and see 49 gates of repentance, we must also understand that we’re not doing it on our own. We simply can’t. Not only does HaShem command us to count, but He also enables us to count. Yet another reason to recite shehecheyanu when we welcome in Shavuos, the “Feast of Weeks” (or as my son calls it, the “Feast of Cheesecake”)…