Counting the Omer
Counting the Omer Istock

We are commanded in Parshat Emor:(33:15-16)’You shall count for yourselves from the morrow of the rest day’, the first day of Pesach, ‘from the day when you bring the omer of the waving- seven weeks, they shall be complete. Until the morrow of the seventh week you shall count, fifty days’.

The Minchat Chinuch lists this Mitzvah as Mitzvah 206 in his minyan of Mitzvot, titling it as ‘the Mitzvah to count forty nune days from the day of the offering of the omer’.

He expounds:’Amongst the ‘roots’ of this Mitzvah על צד פשט: on a ‘literal’ level, is that since the whole essence of Israel is ‘only’ the Torah, since only for the Torah were heaven and earth and Israel created, and since the main reason and purpose for which Israel were redeemed from Egypt, was to receive the Torah, we were commanded to count from the day following the day of the festival of Pesach, until the day on which the Torah was given, to show the desire and yearning in our souls, to that special day, like a slave seeking shade, who counts the days till he goes out to freedom, as counting shows that the entire desire is for that day to come’.

And here we ask: Why do we not count-down, if that is the case, which is the usual way when we yearn for a special day to arrive? Why, instead, do we count the days that have elapsed, and not the days which remain?

Answers the Chinuch:’And don’t question why, once most of the days to be counted have elapsed, do we not then count by the number of days remaing? Because we don’t want to change, in mid-stream, our way of counting’.

Whilst the learned author does not really address our question, though he alludes to it, might the answer be that, it is done for our ease, as most people will have less difficulty in the manner we count, adding one to the previous day’s count, than remembering how many days remain, as we had mentioned the previous day, and deducting one from that number.

Haktav veHakabala offers an original answer to the question we raised; he also raises, and answers, further questions as to this Mitzvah.

He first asks:

Why do we call this Mitzvah ‘the counting of the omer’?

The ‘omer’ is only a measure, and no-where else do we find a Mitzvah defined by the mesure of the vessel in which an offering is made?! Why, for instance, is it not called מנחת בכורים׳ an offering of the first crop’?

He answers:’This offering is called the omer because this name also alludes to servitude to Hashem and to His Mitzvot, as we find that forcing another person into servitude is referred to as : (Ki Tetze 24:7):’והתעמר בו’: ‘and he enslaved him’.’

He also answers our question as to counting ‘forwards’, and not ‘backwards’:’We count how many days we have been engaged, since leaving the servitude of Egypt, in preparing and elevating ourselves, day after day, to be servants of Hashem, until the day of ultimate servitude to Him, when we accept the Torah, proclaiming ‘all that Hashem says, we will do and we will hear’

‘The purpose of our count is not to ‘merely’ know the quantity of days, as in usual counts, but the main purpose is to be aware of the quality of the days, how far we have ascended towards our goal of complete subservience, on the fiftieth day’.

Let us sweeten our understanding, on the basis of the beautiful insight of HaMtav veHakabala, by proffering an answer to this questioin:

Why we stop our count at forty-nine, and not count fifty, despite the Torah stating ‘you shall count fifty days’.

The answer might be found in the teaching of the Mechilta (Mishpatim 24:1), as brought by Rashi: The events narrated at the end of that Parasha, although written in the Torah after the giving of the Ten Commandments, in fact occurred on the preceding day: on the fifth day of Sivan, whereas the Torah was given on the sixth of that month.

We read there, that Bnei Israel on that day, entered into the Covenant ‘of the Book of the Covenant’, accepting then that ‘all that Hashem says, we shall do and we shall hear’.

This occurred on the forty-ninth day of our counting; as the whole purpose of our counting, as HaKtav veHakabala expounded, was towards the complete subjugation to Hashem and His Mitzvot, and this was accomplished on that day, there was no reason to count futher- ‘all’ that remained was for the Torah to be given to them the following day!

לרפואת נחום אלימלך רפאל נ"י ונועם עליזה תחי' בתוך כל חולי ישראל.

Danny Ginsbourg is a lawyer who made aliya from Australia a decade ago. He has written five volumes of Torah thoughts in Hebrew,and was awarded the Jerusalem Prize.for the two volume Davsha shel Torah to which there are already several sequels. A book of his writings Torah writings for Arutz Sheva, which he also sends to his community, is to be published soon.