David Walk

The Count

We Jews love to count. Who Knows One, indeed! I’m also a Shofar blower, and we count the notes and the individual blasts, plus the seconds of duration for each note. But our counting mania reaches its apex every year during the period from Pesach to Shavuot. Now, I’m not claiming that we suffer from arithmomania, but it’s close. As I write this I’m keeping track of the words I’ve typed, but it’s under control. I don’t count the letters. 

Anyway, from Pesach to Shavuot we count the days and the weeks. We’re also a bit neurotic about when we count, not too early, but not too late. We want SHLEIMOT, whole days and whole weeks. But what’s the purpose of the count?

There are many answers to that question. Rav Ya’akov ben Harosh (1270-1340) explains that for practical purposes we needed this count done by individuals because the farmers were out in the fields during this harvest period and wouldn’t know the date, especially when the calendar was set by the Sanhedrin. The only way for this large agrarian segment of the population to know when Shavuot would fall was by personally counting from Pesach.

On the other hand, many authorities emphasize the spiritual requirements of these seven weeks. So, the Sefer Hachinuch suggests: to show our great yearning for that distinguished day, for which our heart longs and constantly counts when the longed-for time will come when we will go out to freedom.  For counting shows about a person that all his hope of deliverance and all his desire is to reach that time.

Rav Adin Steinzaltz emphasized this aspect of these days when he wrote:

The days of the Sefira aren’t days of TESHUVA for sins committed. The true nature of the days of the Sefira are a repair (TIKUN) of the soul (NEFESH), not a repair of behavior…This is all meant to facilitate accepting the Torah completely. We undergo a process of TIKUN HANEFESH which makes it possible for a person to accept the Torah in as internal and natural way as possible (Chaye Hashanah, p. 212).

These spiritual approaches to the counting process are reflected in the additional paragraphs added to the daily count over the centuries. Personally, I’m a minimalist, following my Lithuanian forebears. I recite the blessing, the count (actually I say the count twice once with L’OMER and then with B’OMER), and the request for the rebuilding of the Temple so that we can bring the Omer offering of barley. However, there are customs to recite literally pages of requests and prayers. But let’s take a quick look at the two basic additions.

The idea of reciting HINENI MUCHAN U’MEZUMAN (Behold, I am prepared and ready; from now on: HMUM) before performing a specific Mitzvah was propagated by the Kabbalists of Tzfat in the 1500’s. Today, it is very popular to recite some version before the Omer and before shaking the LULAV. Rav Daniel Mann avers that one reason for the popularity is the ‘catchy tune’. Maybe.

In the most basic HMUM we just declare that this count is a Mitzvah. I don’t really see what this adds to the recitation of the BERACHA, which states the same thing. But what do I know? But there are versions of HMUM which add:

For the sake of the unification between the Holy Blessed One and His Shechinah with fear and love and with love and fear, in order to unify the Name Yood Hey and Vav Hey in perfect unity,

This statement makes the bold claim that we are doing something for the Divine Presence in this world by reciting this number. I don’t get it. Many versions of HMUM (mostly from Eidot Hamizrach) go on to claim:

To repair the heavenly source of this Mitzvah in its supernal place to complete the heavenly Tree and to complete the heavenly Adam, and to establish the Tent of David which has fallen, and to return the Crown to its former glory, to clarify, to repair and to raise up all the souls and all the Holy Sparks which fell…  

Now we’re getting somewhere. By preparing properly for the annual reacceptance of the Torah on Shavuot, we are preparing for the world to enter a new era of spiritual reality which include the rebuilding of the Temple and reestablishment of the bonds between heaven and earth. That’s cool! It also hearkens back to the status our forebears attained at Sinai. 

But even though we have counted the day, we’re not done with the ritual. Many people (not me, of course) then recite a paragraph addressing a request to RIBONO SHEL OLAM (Master of the Cosmos), in which we ask:

May it also be Your will…that in the merit of the Omer count that I have counted today there will be rectified any defect on my part in the counting of (insert that day’s Sefira). May I be cleansed and sanctified with Your holiness on high…

This is new and important. The Jews exiting Egypt had sunk to the depths of impurity (Traditionally to rung 49 out of a possible 50). We not only aspire to a greater future; we want to remove the spiritual blemishes from our past. We’re not only moving towards a brighter dawn; we’re shedding the defects of the preceding dark night. The dual concept is critical: One can’t immerse in the MIKVEH while clutching impurity!

I may not recite all these many formulae, but I’m very supportive of these important ideas. We’re getting ready to again accept the Torah. Let’s embrace that opportunity by polishing up our spiritual CV. I pray that the daily Omer count helps in that endeavor.

About the Author
Born in Malden, MA, 1950. Graduate of YU, taught for Rabbi Riskin in Riverdale, NY, and then for 18 years in Efrat with R. Riskin and R. Brovender at Yeshivat Hamivtar. Spent 16 years as Educational Director, Cong. Agudath Sholom, Stamford, CT. Now teach at OU Center and Yeshivat Orayta.
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