Making it count
TorahParshat Bamidbar

Making it count

Numbers 1:1 – 4:20

There are times to count down and times to count up. On the Jewish calendar, this is the time to count up.

From the second day of Passover until Shavuot, we count up as commanded in Leviticus 23:15-16. Starting from the second night of Passover, “…you shall count off seven weeks. They must be complete: you must count until the day after the seventh week — fifty days; then you shall bring an offering of new grain to Adonai.” At first, each day’s counting was accompanied by bringing a small offering of barley to the Temple in gratitude to God. In time, it became the ritual link between leaving Egypt as celebrated during Passover to standing at Mt. Sinai as celebrated on Shavuot, 50 days later.

There is a formula for counting the omer: Declare you are ready. Say the blessing. Announce the day of the omer. For example: “Today is the 46th day of the omer”; then divide it into weeks and days. Some people refer to a chart to do the math. At Temple David, we have a ringer for this: a congregant, who is a retired high school math teacher — able to navigate and teach advanced algebra, trigonometry and geometry — is the one who solves our division problem. If today is the 46th day of the omer, she computes that is six weeks and four days of the omer.

Yet, we may ask, why do we need to count both days and weeks? It comes from a rabbinic argument whose crux is that the biblical text instructs, “You shall count 50 days.” On the other hand, the text also says to “count … seven complete weeks.”

So, do we count in days or weeks? The answer is “yes,” meaning count both days and weeks.

We are to live in two countings at once: One is measured by the week. It reminds me of a reading from our family Shabbat service by Rabbi Samuel M. Cohon and Nanci J. Freedberg: “Think about the week you just lived. From last Shabbat to this Shabbat. Think about the moments and your memories over the past seven days. How many choices did you make that were on target? How many times were you unselfish? How many times did you tell the truth? How many times did you say, ‘Thank you?’ How many times did you say, ‘I am sorry?’ How many times did you appreciate what you have? Shabbat is a time to reflect on a week gone by.”

Meanwhile, we are to also make each day count as 11th-century Bachya ibn Pekuda taught: “Days are like scrolls, write on them what you want remembered.” We are to be intentional, present, mindful, seeking mitzvot introduced by 100 blessings per day.

As we count the omer, we are to consider time in bigger and smaller chunks, for counting time makes it, well, count.

For 18 years, I have had the honor of being the rabbi of Temple David and, through that sacred relationship, to partner with many Jewish, interfaith and secular organizations and institutions. As Ron and I prepare to relocate, I thank you, Pittsburgh, for 6,574 days, which is 939 weeks and one day. PJC

Rabbi Barbara AB Symons is the rabbi of Temple David. This column is a service of the Greater Pittsburgh Jewish Clergy Association.

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