Count Your Days to Make Your Days Count!

by Rabbi Audrey Pollack, April 25, 2019

In early 2016, Nuseir Yassin, a 26 year old Harvard grad and software engineer, quit his job and set out on a journey of 1,000 days, traveling the world and vlogging – or video blogging about his adventures in 1 minute videos that he uploaded to Facebook on his page NAS Daily. He committed to documenting every day of his life for 1,000 days and sharing it with the world. Nas Daily’s videos have had a huge following worldwide – in part because he committed to making videos that show the human story in each place that he has traveled and in a short format. He admits that he doesn’t usually take risks, “But I decided to make use of every single day, I didn’t want to waste a single minute,” he says. Nas wears the same t-shirt in each of his videos with a slight twist – the graphic on each shirt shows the word “life” and a grid with a percentage that calculates how much of his life he has already lived based on his current age. “35% LIFE” The grid trends upward percentage -wise, looking forward from what he has already accomplished. It helps him realize that life is finite and we should use time wisely.

In the Psalms (90:12) we read: לִמְנ֣וֹת יָ֭מֵינוּ כֵּ֣ן הוֹדַ֑ע וְ֝נָבִ֗א לְבַ֣ב חָכְמָֽה׃

Teach us to number our days that we may gain a heart of wisdom.
Starting on the second night of Passover, we engage in the ritual of numbering or counting the days of the Omer. The origin of this tradition comes from the text of Leviticus 23:9-11

“God spoke to Moses saying, “Speak to the Children of Israel and say to them: When you come to the land that I am giving you and you reap the harvest, you shall bring the Omer of the first of your harvest to the Kohen. He shall wave the Omer before God for acceptance on your behalf; on the day following the Sabbath (the first day of Pesach) the Kohen shall wave it.”

The period of the Omer derives its name from a special offering that was brought in the days that the Temple stood in Jerusalem. Before any newly grown grains – wheat, barley, oats, rye, and spelt – could be eaten, the equivalent of one day’s worth of barley flour (enough for one person) was brought as an offering in the Temple on the second day of Pesach. This offering of barley flour is known as the Omer offering.

And a few verses later we learn in Leviticus 23:15-16 that it is a mitzvah to count each of the forty-nine days from Pesach (the time that the Jews left Egypt) until Shavuot (the time we received Torah at Mt. Sinai).

“You should count for yourselves from the day after Shabbat [Pesach], from the day that you brought the Omer of the waving; seven weeks, they shall be complete.Until the day after the seventh week you shall count fifty days; and you shall bring a new grain offering (wheat flour) for God.”

And in Deuteronomy 16:9 we learn that apart from counting the days, there is also a mitzvah to count each of the seven weeks:

“Seven weeks shall you count for yourselves; from the time the sickle is first put to the standing grain you should begin counting seven weeks.”

Originally, counting the omer was an agricultural activity that marked the days between the barley harvest at Pesach and the wheat harvest around the time of Shavuot. The term “omer” literally means “barley sheaf” and refers to that barley offering that was brought to the Temple on the second day of Passover. And the mitzvah in the Torah is to count all of these 49 days in the 7 weeks from the second day of Pesach until the evening before Shavuot.

Additionally, beyond counting this grain offering, the days of the Omer are a time of preparation for Shavuot – we are counting the days leading us from the Exodus from Egypt, to the Giving of the Torah on Mt. Sinai. By the 16th century, the Kabbalistic mystics of Sfat, led by Rabbi Isaac Luria, began to view this period of Sefirat HaOmer, Counting the Omer, as a time of spiritual preparation and personal awareness to become ready to receive the Torah on Shavuot.

So, the counting of the Omer is also a period of spiritual growth. Each night as we count the Omer, we also engage in spiritual reflection, as we prepare symbolically to journey from redemption at the shores of Sea of Reeds, which we have just celebrated at Pesach, to the moment of revelation at Sinai, which we celebrate on Shavuot.

Now, usually, when people count toward an important event, they count down. Why do we count up? Counting towards Shavuot and the gift of Torah at Mt. Sinai reminds us of the importance of the teaching of Torah, so we count up to demonstrate that each day represents an accomplishment.

For instance, we can look at the days until an event occurs as simply days of waiting –if you are expecting to receive a large gift at the end of fifty days you can see those days of waiting as something to be endured – “fifty days that are in the way of my receiving that gift,” and when a day passes, only forty-nine days remain that separate me from receiving that gift. But we relate to the days of Sefirat HaOmer differently. They are days of spiritual building upwards. We are journeying towards Zman Matan Torateinu, the Giving of Torah.

In my email signature, I include the words from (Psalm 118:24):

זֶה-הַיּוֹם, עָשָׂה יְהוָה; נָגִילָה וְנִשְׂמְחָה בוֹ

Zeh Hayom Asah Adonai Nagilah v’nis’mecha vo

This is the Day that God has made, let us rejoice and be glad in it. (Psalm 118:24)

These words are a reminder to me, and I hope to those who see them, that each day is important and not to be taken for granted. Each and every day counts – there is something to learn, opportunities to grow, to be renewed, even on the most difficult of days.

We count the days so that we will learn to make our days count! When we recite the blessing and count the days of the Omer each evening, we take the time to focus on each day. In counting we are reminded that each day counts–each day is important and cannot be taken for granted.

The Omer period is an appropriate time to remind ourselves of the importance of each day. We can make each day count by devoting time to our loved ones, to our friends and family, to the activities that help us find spiritual growth and renewal and strengthen ourselves and our community. The Omer reminds us that life is to be lived and renewed each day. Count your days to make your days count!

Here are some links about Counting the Omer:


Rabbi Audrey S. Pollack

Filed under: Rabbi's Message

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