counting up

(Torah Portion Acharai Mos) Counting Up!

We are currently in the Omer period. The Omer derives its name from a special sacrificial offering of barley flour that was offered in the Temple on the second day of Pesach. This offering of barley flour is known as the Omer offering because it was the volume of an Omer, which is the equivalent of one day’s worth of grain. All newly grown grains of wheat, barley, oats, rye, and spelt may not be eaten until the Omer offering was brought which permitted the new year’s grain to be consumed.

The Torah commands us that, starting from the day the Omer was offered, we must count each day for 49 days, which is seven complete weeks. On the fiftieth day – which is the holiday of Shavuos – a presentation of two breads made from wheat flour was performed in the Temple. This offering permitted the new grain to be used for the Temple offerings and its presentations.

Since our acceptance of Torah at Mount Sinai was the goal of our redemption from Egypt and serves as the foundation of the Jewish people, we are commanded to count from the day after we left Egypt until the day that the Torah was given. In this way we exhibit our great desire for that awesome day.

Sefer Hachinuch wonders why we begin counting from the second day of Pesach and not from the first day. He answers that the first day of Pesach is entirely dedicated to remembering the great miracle of the Exodus from Egypt, which proves that God created the world and of the existence of Divine Providence. We do not want to mix the commemoration of that event with a different idea and therefore, the counting begins from the second day of Pesach.

The Mitzvah of counting the days of the Omer highlights the significance of the festival of Shavuos and the Torah we received on that day. Counting towards the time of receiving the Torah demonstrates and reminds us how important it is to us and our love for it. But there is something interesting here. Usually, when people count toward an important event, they count down. Why do we count up, beginning with day one and ending on day forty-nine?

Rabbi Shimshon Pinkus o.b.m. explains: When a person counts the days toward a certain event, the intervening days have no significance. For instance, a person who is expecting to receive a large gift in a month’s time views the days of waiting as an interference with receiving the gift. When a day passes, it is one day less that separates him from the gift.

But the way we relate to the days of the counting of the Omer is on a completely different level. These days are days of spiritual building. When a person builds a ten-story building, he counts each story: I have built one story, a second story, etc. He doesn’t say: “I have so many stories left to build.” Similarly on the days of Omer, we are building and preparing ourselves for the giving of the Torah. God is prepared to give us the Torah right away, but we simply are not yet ready. Therefore, we count the days of preparation, counting the spiritual “stories” that prepare us to receive the Torah on Shavuos.

On a Mystical level, each week of the seven weeks of the Sefira represent one of the seven character traits of G-d that are mentioned in the Book of Chronicles, “To You, God, are the greatness (chesed), the strength (gevurah), the splendor (tiferes), the eternity (netzach), and the glory (hod), even everything that is in the heavens and the earth (yesod). To You, God, belongs kingship (malchus), and You are elevated over every head.” These Sefirot represent our finite understanding of the Infinite.

In addition, the Mishna in Ethics of our Fathers (6:6) teaches us that the Torah is acquired through forty-eight qualities. Forty-eight days of the Omer count correspond to the forty-eight ways that the Torah is acquired. Says Rabbi Aaron Kotler o.b.m., the forty-ninth day is the day of completion to purify and prepare to receive the Torah on the fiftieth day.

Here are some of the 48 qualities to reflect upon: Study, attentive listening, fear of Heaven, humility, joy, purity, calmness, knowledge of Scriptures, knowledge of Mishnah, moderation in physical pleasure, moderation in speech, slowness to anger, having a good heart, faith and awe in the Sages, knowing one’s place, being happy with whatever one has, endearing oneself to others, loving God, loving His creatures, loving righteousness, loving justice, sharing another person’s troubles, judging others positively, setting them in the path of truth and peace, studying in order to do the Mitzvos.

Basically, this means we have our work cut out for us. But in reality the Sefira period teaches us something very important about Judaism, we are not expected reach all levels at once.

We make each day count by concentrating on some type of spiritual growth, and then build on our accomplishments. Focusing on the goal of reaching the ultimate level of connectivity to G-d through the observance and study of His Torah makes it possible for every Jew to reach and embrace that goal!

Wishing you a most enjoyable & uplifting Shabbos!
Rabbi Dovid Saks