Counting the Omer

Counting days that have passed, as in the Omer, automatically causes us to reflect on what was accomplished and what was left undone.

Rabbi Berel Wein ,

Rabbi Berel Wein
Rabbi Berel Wein
courtesy

We are now in the midst of the period on the Jewish calendar when we are engaged in a daily countdown towards the holiday of Shavuot. This commandment of counting the days begins with the offering of the first new grain of the Pesach harvest and concludes with the new produce of the agricultural year in the temple in Jerusalem on the holiday of Shavuot.

Each of the 49 intervening days as well as the seven weeks that pass between the holidays is to be counted. There is a difference of opinion as to whether each day is a commandment by itself or rather the total of 49 days, when completed, also marks the fulfillment of the biblical commandment. It is clear, though, that the Torah is insistent on this count during the interim between these two major holidays of the Jewish calendar.

Now, the fact that the holiday of Shavuot marks the anniversary date of the Revelation at Sinai and the granting of the Torah to the Jewish people, it seems obvious that we should be counting towards a great event and doing so with anticipation and optimism. It is therefore strange that the count that we do make is, so to speak, a backward count – is counting the days that have passed and not counting the of days of glory and significance that are yet to come.

We should count on the first night that there are now 49 more days to come and every night thereafter naturally reduces that number by the number that has already passed. Instead, we count that it was day
However, by contemplating our past and learning from our experiences, and gaining from our studies and knowledge, we can become wiser.
one or day two, etc. – days that have already passed and will never return.

Our great teacher Moshe in one of the chapters of Psalms that he authored, stated that we were endowed with the knowledge to count our days so that we may obtain for ourselves a heart of wisdom. Since the future is always unknown, the import of this lesson is that we should count the days that have already advanced as well as the present days to become wiser and better people.

Counting days that have passed automatically causes us to reflect on what was accomplished and what was left undone. We remember past accomplishments as well as past deficiencies. We have a certain perspective on the past that we are completely unable to have regarding the future. However, by contemplating our past and learning from our experiences, and gaining from our studies and knowledge, we can become wiser. And that wisdom once again will benefit us no matter what the future brings. Experiencing the past allows one to have a more balanced and sanguine approach to the future, unknown as it is and anxious as we may be regarding it.

Perhaps this is what King Solomon meant when he stated that what was is what will be – meaning that what was will help define, explain, and protect us from what will yet be in the unknown future.

I think that it is in this vein that the commandment of counting the days between these two major Jewish holidays was ordered upon us. Accepting the Torah in every generation and for every individual requires some degree of preparation – mental, emotional, moral, spiritual, and intellectual. Without such preparation it will be hard to maintain the values and lifestyle that the Torah stands for and demands from us.

This preparation can only be obtained by reviewing our past behavior, knowledge, and lessons of life. We are bidden to count backwards, so to speak, to be able to progress in a meaningful fashion towards the acceptance of Torah as the bedrock of our faith and lifestyle. It is this realization that the past weighs heavily upon us, whether we want it to or not, that both Moshe and King Solomon wish to impart to us in their immortal words. We all are aware of the dread that we have that the past will somehow escape us and that we will remain no longer human beings in the fullest sense of the word but rather shadows of our former selves… realizing what we could have been.

Counting values is therefore important and even though we are commanded to do so for only 49 days, mentally and spiritually it is a year-round discipline that can only enhance our physical and spiritual lives.

Rabbi Berel Wein is a noted scholar, historian, speaker and educator, admired the world over for his audio tapes/CDs, videos and books, particularly on Jewish history. After many years serving as a community rabbi in Monsey, NY, he made aliya and is rabbi of Beit Knesset Hanassi in Jerusalem.



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