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Beit Midrash Shabbat and Holidays The Meaning Sefirat Ha'omer

Counting the Omer

We are now in the middle of the counting of the Omer, I have always been somewhat perplexed by the general explanation, that this count is meant to represent the longing of the Jewish people and their preparation for the acceptance of the Torah on Mount Sinai after their freedom from the bondage of Egypt.
Rabbi Berel WeinIyar 7 5781
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We are now in the middle of the counting of the Omer, the seven weeks from the beginning of Pesach until the holiday of Shavuot. Since there is a difference of opinion as to whether we are obligated to count the days or weeks, our custom is to count both. However, I have always been somewhat perplexed by the general explanation, according to Jewish tradition, that this count is meant to represent the longing of the Jewish people and their preparation for the acceptance of the Torah on Mount Sinai after their freedom from the bondage of Egypt. As such, it is apparently a count towards a certain goal.

When human beings count towards an expected event, especially a meaningful and happy event, they always count how many days they have left until the date of that event finally. If this is true, then why do we count as to how many days have elapsed and not how many days that are left until we reach the goal that the holiday of Shavuot represents. We should really count that 40 days are left, or 30 days left, instead of counting that 30 days have passed, or 40 days have passed.

I know that this question did not originate with me, as over the ages of Jewish scholarship, it has been addressed by those far more worthy and knowledgeable. But, it is a matter that I have thought about again just recently, and I am offering an opinion of my own as to why we count from the past and not toward the future.

Our great teacher and the greatest of all prophets, Moshe, stated in one of the Psalms attributed to him by Jewish tradition, that we have been commanded to count our days to bring forth within us a heart of wisdom. He is, obviously, referring to the fact that we must count the days in our lives that have passed. There is no way that human beings can count days that have not yet occurred, as the future remains a mystery. Apparently, then, counting the days that have passed is the key to wisdom and understanding. Counting down towards events of the future is very chancy and uncertain. The past is reality to most of us, while the future is mystery and the unknown.

Our vision of the future is built upon expectations that we have for ourselves. Sometimes these expectations are valid and real, while at other times they are, in fact, pure fantasy. One cannot build knowledge or understanding upon the flimsy platform of unrealized expectations. The past is meant to temper our expectations of the future and create for us a more realistic approach to our lives and to our society. There is no substitute for experience, and there is no greater enemy to human progress then deluded and imaginary expectations that always doom us to disappointment and even tragedy.

Although utopian ideas, programs and governmental behavior have been built upon expectations of fantasy, human nature has not changed from the time of the Garden of Eden until today. People yearn to be free to make their own choices and decisions. They reject the tyranny imposed upon them by those that somehow feel that they know better what is good for you than you do yourself. Only the past can inform us as to the course that we should follow in the future. By ignoring the past, or, even worse, by distorting the facts and occurrences of the past, we doom ourselves to an unpleasant present and an exceedingly difficult future.

We count the days that have gone by and try to assess what we have learned in that period and through those experiences. Only by an accurate assessment of the past can the acceptance of the Torah on Mount Sinai become a reality and a holy mission that can transform a people into the kingdom of priests and a holy nation.

We all are victims of unrealized expectations. No vacation is ever as good as the one that we anticipate, and that is true about most events in our lifetime. We certainly look forward to events as good times, but they must be tempered with the realization of the experiences of past living. So, the counting of the Omer is in reality the best preparation for the holiday that we look forward to celebrating in a few short weeks.

By assessing what we have accomplished, day by day, and week by week, not only since the holiday of Pesach, but, generally, in our lives as well, can we be in a much better position to, once again, renew our acceptance of the Torah and maintain Jewish tradition in our lives. This is a profound lesson, not only for this period, but for all times and circumstances, and a message that should be assimilated within our daily behavior.
Rabbi Berel Wein
The rabbi of the "HANASI" congregation in Yerushalim, head of the Destiny foundation, former head of the OU, Rosh Yeshiva of 'sharai Tora" and rabbi of the "Beit Tora" congregation, Monsey, New York.
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