Counting the Days – Making the Days Count

In Vayikra 23:15 we are commanded to count forty nine days from the second day of Pesach, when the Omer offering of new barley was brought in the Beit Hamikdash, culminating with Shavuot which is celebrated on the fiftieth day.  Rather than counting down, we count upwards to Shavuot, as each day that passes is a significant step forward in its own right, in addition to being part of our journey.

These forty nine days correspond to the forty nine days that Bnei Yisrael prepared themselves, from the time they left Egypt until they were ready to receive the Torah at Mount Sinai.  We refer to this time period as Sefirat Ha’Omer – Counting of the Omer.

Originally this time was considered joyous; today we observe a period of quasi-mourning as we no longer have the Beit Hamikdash.  Additionally, many tragedies befell the Jewish people during this time of year; 24,000 of Rabbi Akiva’s students died and many lives were lost during the Crusades (Aruch Hashulchan 493:1)  During the Omer we do not perform weddings, listen to live music or cut hair.  As there are different traditions about the details of these customs, each person should consult their Rabbi for guidance.

In modern times we should try to make use of this period, to reflect and improve ourselves; so that we should once again be worthy of receiving the Torah.  The Sefer Hachinuch (Commandment 306) explains that the act of counting itself helps to anticipate the day we receive the Torah.  Rambam elucidates in Moreh Nevuchim 3:43:6 that we should count the days to Shavuot, like one would count towards the imminent arrival of a loved one.

Today the 28th April 2024 – 20th Nissan 5784  we are still waiting for the the imminent arrival of many loved ones.  We are waiting for the release of the hostages who were brutally snatched from their homes and the Nova Festival 204 days ago.  We count every day, hour, minute and second that 130 Israeli citizens have been kidnapped by Hamas and held against their will.

Every day but especially at the time of year when we celebrate our freedom, our thoughts and prayers are with the families and friends who are waiting for the safe return of their loved ones and the hostages themselves.   We hope and pray that they will be reunited very soon.

Those of us are free are granted the priceless gift of time; it is very precious, but its value is dependent on how it is utilised.  When we were slaves in Egypt we did not have the luxury of being able to decide how to use our time, as it was not our own, we had to do the bidding of the Egyptian rulers.  When God took us out of Egypt, we were free for the first time – free to decide for ourselves how we would spend the precious commodity of time.

By counting each day, we are reminded of how unique each day is;  we should think carefully how to use each day to its maximum potential.

We should make the most of our time and particularly during Sefirat Ha’Omer; count each day – making every day count!

Let us hope and pray that the hostages will be granted their freedom and the luxury being free to decide how they spend their time very soon and pray that we will be able to stop counting the days that the hostages have been held in captivity.

About the Author
Chava is a Community Educator in London and has served as the Scholar in Residence at Hampstead and Finchley United Synagogues. She is a regular speaker at various shuls and private homes. Chava completed an MA in Jewish Education (LSJS and Birkbeck), an MA in Property Valuation and Law (City University Business School) and a BSc (London School of Economics) in Accounting and Finance. She is a Matan Bellows Eshkolot Fellow, an alumnus of Michlala, and a graduate of the LSJS Bradfield Women's Educators, the Montefiore Scholar Diploma and the Herzog Tanach Teachers Programmes