This is dedicated to those of us who are ageing. Come to think of it that includes all of us!
The Torah enjoins us, between Pesach and Shavuot, to “count for yourselves (i.e. for your benefit) …. seven complete weeks, until the morrow of the seventh [complete] week, count fifty days.
Thus we are to count both the weeks and the days. If one counted “two weeks” and not “fourteen days making two weeks” or if he counted “thirty-two days” while omitting to say “making four weeks and four days” the mitsva has not been fulfilled properly.
There are varied explanations as to the deeper meaning of this aspect of the Omer count. Here is one to sample.
A total day consists of a period of activity and a (hopefully shorter) period of physical rest (sleep). A total week consists of six days of labour followed by a 25-hour period of spiritual rest (Shabbat).
A human being needs both physical and spiritual refreshment. Body and soul are indispensable to each other in this world. It is a mitsva to nurture both. Both are holy. Ve-nishmartem me-od le-nafshoteikhem. “Guard well your body and your soul” (Deut 4:15 – the word nefesh means both body and soul). We neglect either at our peril.
While of course our physical wellbeing is ultimately in the hands of G-D and is something that we pray for three times every day in the eighth blessing of the Amida, we must do our bit to remain healthy. We are not to abuse our bodies. Doing so will impede our opportunity to grow spiritually as a healthy soul flourishes optimally in a healthy body.
However the reverse can also be true. Striving for growth in Torah-spirituality will revitalise our organs. “The Torah of G-D is perfect restoring both the body and the soul (Psalms19:8 – again the word nefesh is used). Physical pain, especially when not self-inflicted, can be lessened when one is spiritually occupied. A student of mine provided me with proof of that.. He was in acute pain following surgery and testified to me that during our hour-long Mishna session, he scarcely noticed it!
Thus we count the weeks as well as the days. Days teach us the need for a healthy body, weeks the need for a healthy soul.
Interestingly in week one of the Omer there are only days to count. If, as has been suggested, the seven weeks of the Omer represent the seven decades of the average lifespan of man (Psalms 90:10), the first week symbolises the first decade of life, infancy and childhood when one is yet to become aware of the importance of spiritual growth. Only ‘days’ (physical and material matters) count for the infant!
As we get into the middle weeks of the Omer we are aware of both the passing days as well as the weeks. Similarly in the middle decades of life our spiritual awareness hopefully catches up with our physical capacity.
By the seventh week of the Omer we have Shavuot, the Feast of Weeks firmly in our sights. And by the seventh decade of life when we reach the age of zikna, sagacity, we grow closer to the “world of the spirit” symbolised by weeks and our material ambitions, strivings, longings and yearnings similarly become more modest. We pray for continued good health for ourselves and our loved ones and the nachas of righteous progeny to the third and even the fourth generation!
Rabbi Shlomo Yosef Zevin (1888-1978) in one of his classic works LaTorah velaMoadim observes that the counting of the Omer instructs us of the need to make every day of our lives count. No day that passes ever returns. Just like in the counting of the Omer where, if we miss a whole day’s counting, we can no longer make a blessing, so too in life. If we forget to make each day count, the blessings of those days are missing.
Conversely remembering to count every day of the Omer with a beracha will hopefully remind us of the need to make every day of our lives count – and may we thereby reap the blessing of every precious day on this blessed earth!