In this week’s sedra, we learn about the laws relating to the Cohanim (priests) and High Priests. It also covers the observance of festivals such as Pesach, Shavuot and Sukkot. As part of this, the Children of Israel are instructed to count the seven weeks from Pesach to Shavuot- the Counting of the Omer.
Counting plays an important role in Jewish thought. This might explain why there are so many Jewish accountants!
Every week we count the number of days in anticipation of Shabbat. The agricultural cycles of the years are counted in Israel, and every seventh year is called Shemittah, when the land lies fallow. Every 50 years are proclaimed a Jubilee year.
Jews count the days every night until Shavuot. But what do we accomplish through our counting? Every festival commemorates two different facets of service to God. Firstly there is the agricultural celebration. Pesach is called the Chag HaAviv, the Spring festival.
Shavuot celebrates the first fruits which had to be brought to the temple. And Sukkot marks the harvest festival and ingathering of the crops into the barns before the onset of winter.
Each Chag, the Children of Israel were reminded not to appear in the Temple empty handed. We therefore understand how the Jews were reminded through the Omer count not to come to celebrate before God without bringing gifts.
However, there is also a second aspect of each festival; and that is its historical context. Pesach celebrates the Exodus from Egypt. Sukkot marks the time when the Children of Israel were protected by God during their dwelling in the desert. Shavuot commemorates the Giving of the Torah at Mt Sinai. The Sefer Hachinuch writes that this is the inner meaning of Omer counting. When the Children of Israel were in the desert they had been told that God would give them the Torah in fifty days, they counted the days with excitement and enthusiasm in preparation and anticipation, refining themselves to be in a state of spiritual readiness to receive the Torah.
The message is practical and simple, every day counts.
Counting means forging a meaningful relationship with time. It enables us to live actively with time and within these 49 days, we are building this new relationship to time.
The Counting of the Omer is a time to recognize that we are not controlled by nature, luck or statistics.
Every time in our lives has intrinsic value. In every place growth can be found. We need never be a ‘victim’ of time. On the contrary, we have the power to harness time for productive purposes and elevate it, filling our days meaningfully.