Beit Midrash

  • Shabbat and Holidays
  • The Meaning Sefirat Ha'omer
To dedicate this lesson

Days And Weeks


Rabbi Berel Wein

The time of sefirah is upon us and we begin to count the time until the great holiday of Shavuot, the anniversary of our receiving the Torah at Sinai arrives. Our custom is that after the first six days of the sefirah have passed, we not only count the day but the weeks as well.

The subject of how to count sefirah correctly is discussed in the Talmud and our current method of counting days and weeks is a result of those Talmudic discourses. Yet, there may be more than the technicality of the counting method that is present in this custom and law of Israel.

Counting days is one thing. Counting weeks is another matter. And counting both days and weeks together in one counting is a third matter completely. For counting days alone means that somehow we are always living in the short run, day to day, without much ambition, planning and vision for our future.

Counting weeks signifies a longer-range outlook, a view at the whole and not so much at the particular, the setting of goals and the hope for the ability to welcome the arrival of the peace and serenity in our lives that Shabat always brings..

Counting both days and weeks together at one time is the symbol of the struggle to balance the immediate present with the still distant future and to arrange one’s life, attitudes, actions and behavior in such a way as to satisfy the here and now and the future all at once. This is no easy task.

Counting the days focuses us on the daily tasks at hand. The Torah is not for the dreamy eyed, for the overly contemplative and passive person. The psalmist records for us the necessity of "man going forth every day to his work and toil." In our world of freezers and preservatives it is hard to imagine the life of so many millennia when daily bread meant exactly that - struggling daily to have food on the table for one’s family.

My mother didn’t have a freezer in our home until I was out of the house already. She went grocery shopping every day and all of our meals were fresh cooked. Take out foods and frozen dinners were unknown. It was a life of counting days. Yet somehow there always was a great sense of the future in our home, unhampered by the difficulties of daily chores and the grind of everyday life.

Physically we counted days. Mentally and spiritually we were counting weeks, striving for the realization of our goals and ambitions and confident that somehow they would be achieved. And, in the life cycle of the traditional Jew, the balance between the counting of days and the counting of weeks was always delicately achieved.

It may very well be that the difficulties and challenges of everyday life contributed to achieving this harmonious and fruitful balance. The maxim of the rabbis in Avot: "According to the difficulty and effort is the commensurate reward," certainly was seen in the efforts and ability to count both days and weeks at one and the same time in one’s family life.

In our time of instant gratification and narcissism, when tomorrow means little to any of our leaders or educators, the counting of weeks has certainly diminished. The binge drinker of alcoholic beverages, the user of "recreational" drugs, the speeder on the highway and the reckless driver who endangers everyone in his vicinity by his selfishness are all symptoms of the lack of vision and hope for tomorrow.

The old Epicurean mantra of "Eat, drink and be merry, for tomorrow we die" is in full swing in our world. Is there any wonder that depression, rage, and a feeling of hopelessness are so much the symbols of our society? There are no easy fixes for our problems. But having a vision, an ideal, a hoped for Shabat at the end of a very trying week, certainly can give a spark to life and a hope for one’s future.

And in the Sefirah period, when we count towards the anniversary of our national charter, the Torah of Sinai, keeping this vision alive and real in our thoughts and actions, it is doubly necessary to do so. Therefore we count weeks and not only days. We deal with the present as best we can and we keep alive the vision of our future at the very same time. And that is truly a major achievement.
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