The Right Way to Count
By: Rabbi Barak Bar-Chaim
We spend our lives obsessed with counting. We are either counting the days and years for a negative experience to end or counting the days towards a perceived positive and pleasurable experience: Shabbat, our yearly vacation, the kids coming home, or a visit from relatives. We count our money, years, successes, and failures. We constantly count almost everything.
Now we count the days of the Omer as the Torah states: “And you shall count unto you from the day after Shabbat (Pesach) from the day that you brought the sheaf of the waving; seven complete weeks they shall be; until the day after the seventh week shall you number fifty days; and you shall present a new meal-offering unto the LORD.”
There seems to be a contradiction in the verses here. First, the Torah instructs us to count seven complete weeks, which is 49 days. Then, the Torah states “You shall count 50 days”.
The great 19th and early 20th century scholar Rabbi Meir Simcha Hakohen of Dvinsk provides the following solution to this problem in his Book Meshech Chochmah: The purpose of counting something in Torah thought is to make it unique, to give it meaning, and to make it count. The first 49 days in and of themselves are no different to any other 49 days. Therefore, in order to make them unique, we have to verbally count them and place them in the context of the Omer offering and our process of growth towards receiving Torah on Shavuot. Shavuot, on the other hand, is a unique day in and of itself, it is a Yom Tov with unique Temple Offerings and Prayers. Effectively, we are counting the fiftieth day even without verbally doing so. What we do on the day of Shavuot makes it special, makes it unique, makes it count. The other days have no special offerings and, so, must be counted to emphasize their meaning and significance.
Friends, I believe herein lies a fundamental practical lesson for our lives. You see, the counting we are constantly obsessed with, counting the days and years for a negative experience to end, or counting the days towards a perceived positive and pleasurable experience is largely inconsistent with the Torah’s idea of counting. The Torah’s idea of counting is not to hanker over the past and anticipate the future, but rather to fill each day with importance and meaning.
The western concept is one of counting days, the Torah concept, on the other hand, is one of making days count.