Columns - 2012

    Omer's Odyssey

    by Doug Brook
    Southern Jewish Life columnist

    The Omer is the forty-nine days between the second day of Passover (commemorating the Exodus from Egypt without passports) and Shavuot (the giving of the Torah at Sinai, the original offer that couldn't be refused).

    Each day of the Omer is counted to recall the rabbis of Talmudic times who used 49 as the over/under for betting on attendance at Shavuot services.

    The Torah also happened to command the counting of these days, starting with the offering of an Omer sacrifice. However, if Jews still practiced sacrificing there would be no need for Super Sunday. So what is the real origin of the Omer?

    Homer wrote The Odyssey about a years-long journey to his homeland after prolonged struggling. Anyone who read the Cliffs Notes knows that this is commonly portrayed as being based on the fall of Troy. In the Trojan War, not in the 2004 Silicon Valley Football Classic (against Northern Illinois), ironically played at Spartan Stadium.

    Homer is commonly believed to have lived in the 8th century B.C.E. (Ph.D., L.L.P.), though some believe he was around a few centuries earlier, near the time of the Trojan War. That puts him far closer to his true inspiration -- and the true inspiration for The Odyssey -- the Israelites' exodus from Egypt.

    Don't believe it? One of the greatest Odysseys known to modern society was set in 2001. On the Hebrew calendar, 2001 is a small math error away from the time of the Exodus. Also, as any good New Yorker can attest, H's are a waste of time, so it's easy to see Homer and Omer as synonymous.

    The Odyssey is believed to have been intended to be heard, not read, much as the Torah and other Judaic texts persisted through centuries as oral tradition. The Odyssey is most commonly known as being written in Greek. When many Jews today are asked how well they know Hebrew, the common response is that it's all Greek to them.

    Odysseus journeys home for ten years, to his wife Penelope and son Telemachus who are fending off many suitors who want to move in on them.

    Moses journeys home for forty years, to his beloved Promised Land and future, which requires fending off many nations who want to move in on it.

    The Romans referred to Odysseus as Ulysses, to honor the famed Union Army General in the Civil War, so it's little surprise that Homer himself changed Moses's name to Odysseus.

    Moses led the Israelites through the Sinai for forty years, but Odysseus's journey was only ten years. Recall the part of the Passover Haggadah that conveys the rabbinic interpretation of how the plagues on the Egyptians were, in fact, fourfold. (It's late in the pre-meal section, when most people start pondering whether their napkins are edible. Answer: They're slightly more edible than matzah.)

    In Greek, the name Odysseus means "Trouble," with a capital T, and that rhymes with D, and that stands for Deliverer (which, before the Domino's guy, meant Moses).

    Both Odysseus and Moses relate various places visited during their respective journeys, the conflicts they endure, and the miraculous, magical wonders they experience. Both of their stories are about coming home, living in exile, finding and reaffirming identity, and the continual temptation to put the book down and go to sleep.

    Both men attribute their survival to their respective deities, as much as many people today attribute their survival to their respective diets.

    Exodus is the second book of the Torah, just as The Odyssey is a sequel to The Iliad. Regardless of the story of The Iliad having any parallels to the book of Genesis, ask any Jewish grandparent how they feel and the Judaic relevance of an epic entitled "Ill Yid" is obvious.

    Where does the forty-nine days of the Omer come from? Try reading The Odyssey, and its 12,110 lines of dactylic hexameter. See how long it takes.

    Doug Brook is a writer in Silicon Valley who was on hand for Troy's fall in 2004. It was cold, it rained... The Trojan War couldn't have been nearly as bad. For more information, past columns, other writings, and more, visit For exclusive online content, become a fan at

    Copyright Doug Brook. All rights reserved.