True, we commemorate the death of Rabbi Akiva's students (Talmud, Yevamot 62b), as well as other historic catastrophes which occurred during a period of time that coincides with the Omer. Nonetheless, as presented in the Torah, the Omer is something entirely different.
There is a second popular misconception regarding the Omer: that we are counting the days until we receive the Torah at Sinai. True, the Omer count concludes, on our calendar, with the fifth of Sivan, and we received the Torah on either the 6th of 7th of Sivan. (Talmud, Shabbat 87a-88a) However, the Torah (Vayikra 23:9-22) does not present this as the reason for counting.
As commanded in the Torah, from the time we first settled the land of Israel we were to bring G-d an annual offering from our new barley, on the 16th of Nisan. Then, we were to count 49 days while harvesting the year's new wheat, and on the 50th day we would bring an annual offering to G-d from our new wheat. In other words: during the Omer period we count the days until we are able to bring G-d a present.
This is the reigning emotion of the Omer: joyous anticipation of an occasion when we will be able to offer G-d the fruit of our efforts, when we will stand in the Beit haMikdash, with loaves of our grain presented before us, and say, "Thank You for all of Your help! As we collect our food from the fields, we dedicate this first portion to You."
- The Omer count weaves together the humility of one who recognizes Divine aid with the pride of one who can show off results.
- It blends the generosity of giving a gift with the gratitude of recognizing that we have received a gift from G-d.
- It mixes the spiritual rite of the Beit haMikdash with the manual labour of the fields.
What a wonderful celebration; this theme should never be forgotten, even in the face of the presentation of the Torah at Sinai, or the grief of 33 days. May we soon bring these offerings again!