Community Torah Corner, May 17, 2024

Rabbi Howard Tilman
Congregation Beth Israel
Scotch Plains, NJ
Parashat Emor

This time of year, we think a lot about counting. How many days left of school? What’s the score of the Rangers series? What day of the Omer was yesterday? Between Pesach and Shavuot, we take part in Sefirat HaOmer, counting off seven full weeks to symbolically link our celebrations of these two festivals. The source of this obligation is found in Parashat Emor, which we’ll read this Shabbat. “You shall count from the eve of the second day of Pesach, when an omer - a bundle - of grain is to be brought as an offering, seven complete weeks. The day after the seventh week of your counting will make fifty days." (Lev 23:15-16)
As is often the case, there’s no specific reason given for this custom. Rambam, Maimonides, offers a possible explanation. “Shavuot is the anniversary of the Revelation on Mount Sinai. To increase the importance of this day, Jews count the days that pass from the preceding festival of Passover, just as one who expects an intimate friend to visit on a certain day counts the days and even the hours until the friend comes. This is why Jews count the days that pass since the offering of the Omer, between the anniversary of the Israelites’ departure from Egypt and the anniversary of the Lawgiving.” Counting the Omer builds our anticipation. Just as we might count the days before a birthday, a trip, or a major celebration, marking each day of the Omer helps us look forward to receiving the Torah again on Shavuot.
While this is true, I’m not sure it’s a perfect reason. When we anticipate events in the future, we tend to count down, not up. There are only 52 days until camp. Then 51, 50, and so forth. When we anticipate, we want those days to get smaller, not bigger. So, while we do look forward to celebrating Shavuot, there is also something more to it.
By marking each day, by counting up, we add to its significance, we take a moment of reflection, and help create a sense of accomplishment. Look how much we’ve already done, while still recognizing how much there is to go.
Sefirat HaOmer is a tradition of counting our days, but it’s also an important reminder to make our days count.
So, whatever it is that we will be diligently counting in the weeks ahead, I hope we’re able to use those moments to count not just our days, but also our blessings.