Why I Stopped Counting Sefira

I don’t count sefirat haomer anymore.
It has been three years since I last counted a full sefira cycle.
For many years I did I did count, and I thought I wanted to. It was nice to be a part of my tradition, and it was nice to say that I had “done it” on Shavuot. But, the process to get there was a struggle between my sense of religion and my basic human need to have control over my life.

Most of the year, your time belongs to you. You keep track of your time, and decide when and how to do so.
But when counting sefira, your time becomes religiously regulated. Every night I would have to count a precise number, nervously double checking beforehand to make sure I was counting the right day.
Even the daytime would be plagued with doubts about whether I had counted correctly.
There were times I had to drop everything just before sunset because I realized I had forgot to count, or had counted the wrong day the night before, and had just minutes to correct the error.

I would at times have to call rabbis and ask them if I was “counting right”. A traditional Jewish practice originally meant to build excitement for getting the Torah had turned into to male rabbis telling me how to manage my time.
Additionally, I grew frustrated with all of the extra rabbinic rules and customs surrounding the sefira count. In addition to actually counting sefira, there are various additional paragraphs tacked on to the ritual. On top of remembering which day it is, you are supposed to keep track of the Kabbalistic sefira of that day and it’s corresponding words and letter in those paragraphs. It’s hard to see the connection between that and the counting out ancestors did in the desert.

To give another example, even something as seemingly innocuous as asking “today is day 24, right”? before the sefira count would be completely taboo. Aside from being nowhere in scripture, it compounds the difficulty of ascertaining which day it is. I would instead have to decipher cryptic statements like “well, last week Wednesday was day 17, so…”.

What finally pushed me over the edge though, was the senseless rigidity of the whole system. Common Halachic practice is that one missed or mistaken day ruins the rest of the sefira count. I later learned that there are actually halachic opinions which don’t have such strict requirements. They see each day as an independent mitzva, alleviating the needless stress of checking and rechecking that I had counted each day.

At first, I simply relaxed the sefira rules. I stopped asking rabbis if I was unsure of whether I had counted correctly. I stopped using verbal gymnastics to confirm which day it was. I stopped saying the extraneous paragraphs after the sefira count.

Even after I took that step though, I still felt stifled. I wanted to keep track of time on my own terms. I wanted to prepare for Shavuot, but in my own individual way, not one dictated by rabbis.

On the second night of pesach three years ago, a friend asked if I had counted yet. I paused, and then replied that I wasn’t planning on counting. I wasn’t sure how she would respond.

“It’s your choice,” she said. “I personally count the Omer, but you need to do whatever works for you.”

I told her that I knew about all of the kabbalistic meaning behind counting the Omer and how it was a preparation for receiving the Torah and the rest of the stuff your Kiruv rabbi tells you.

But at the end of the day, time passes whether I count it or not. Shavuot will come whether I count it or not.
I’m not saying that no one should count sefira; there are many who find meaning in the ritual. I’m not saying that I’ll never count sefira again, either. When I do, though, it will be on my own terms. And for now, I’m enjoying what a sefira anxiety-free year feels like.

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