Monday, March 25, 2013

The Magic Formula for the Counting of the Omer

If you were stranded on an island without a Jewish calendar and no internet connection (oy gevald!), how would you know what number to count in the Omer? 

On the evening of March 26 this year, the second night of Passover, we began the period in the Jewish calendar known as Sefirat Ha'omer, the counting of the Omer

There is a special mitzvah, mentioned in Leviticus 23:15, to count the Omer every night, starting with 1 on the first night and incrementally increasing the count by one every night until we reach 49: "Today is one day to the Omer", "Today is two days to the Omer" and so on, until we reach the last count on the night before Shavuot: "Today is 49 days which are seven weeks to the Omer."  

On the first few nights it was relatively easy to remember the correct count, but once we get deep into the count, it becomes difficult to remember, e.g. is it 20 or 21 or 22 tonight? 

To help you with the correct count, many Jewish calendars print the Omer number on all the dates between now and Shavuot. If you prefer to look things up online, you'll find websites  to help you figure out the correct Omer count. 

But what if you took a trip in the Appalachian mountains and forgot to take a Jewish calendar? Imagine you're in an area with no web connectivity and so you need to rely solely on yourself. What should you do?  

The OMER Magic Formula

My father Elhanan z"l taught us that every year there is a unique Omer Magic Formula to figure out the correct Omer count on any given night. All you need to do is follow an algorithm which can be summarized by this easy-to-remember abbreviation:  

GSS 7 

Subtract day
Subtract magic number
Divisible by 7

1. Take a reasonable guess.

2. Subtract the day of the week.

3. Subtract this year's magic number: 5.

4. If the result is 0 or divisible by 7, your guess is right! But if it’s not 0 or not divisible by 7 – your guess is wrong!

5. Keep trying until your result is either 0 or divisible by 7 (-7 is also considered divisible by 7).


For example, let's say you don’t remember the count on Wednesday, April 3. Take a reasonable guess for that day's Omer number - let's say 10 (after all, we will have been counting for more than a week). But you're not sure - it could be 9, 11, etc.  

Apply the Omer formula to check your guess: 

From your guess (10), subtract the day of the week Wednesday (4) and then subtract magic number 5. 


10 – 4 – 5 = 1

The result, 1, is not 0 and not divisible by 7. Hence, your original guess 10 is wrong

You go back and try another number, 9. Apply the formula:

9 – 4 – 5 = 0

Eureka! Because the result was 0, your guess, 9, is the correct count since 0 is considered divisible by 7 (0/7 is a whole number, 0). Without any outside knowledge, you were able to guess correctly that on Wednesday, April 3, we will count 9 in the Omer. 

This formula will work for any day of the Omer!!!

There is  small caveat in that your guess has to be within a range of 7 of the correct count, but that's not a problem because most people know the approximate range we're in. 

Next year will be a different magic number. To get next year's update to the magic formula, you'll have to come back to my blog:)  

Happy Pesach to my family and friends!

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