The Omer: Counting Down by Counting Up

Posted on April 23, 2019

The Omer: Counting Down by Counting Up
Rabbi Alex Freedman

Typically, when we’re really excited for a moment to arrive, we count down. Like on New Years Eve: “10, 9, 8…” Because we can’t wait for the new year. Or the days before a vacation: “ 10, 9, 8…” Equally as typical, when we want a moment to last, we count up. On vacation, we’ll think of it as “Day 1, Day 2, Day 3, etc.” 

So why does it seem like we have the Omer count backward? 

The seven weeks between the second night of Passover and Shavuot are counted night by night. The end point is the anniversary of receiving the Torah, surely an exciting moment. Intuitively we should count down the days, but instead the Omer counts up: “Today is the first day, second day, etc.” Why? 

When we count down to something, we communicate that the time in between doesn’t matter. All that’s important is getting to the finish line. The last few minutes of a given year are like that. For kids (and teachers!) the last few days of school are like that too. Counting down implies, “let’s just fast forward.” 

But life is too precious to let any moment simply pass by. As a friend told me, “Killing time is suicide.” 

The days between Passover and Shavuot matter a great deal and should not be “just gotten over with.” This is because we must prepare ourselves emotionally each year to receive the Torah anew. We care about reaching the finish line, but we also care about finishing strong. We seek to grow through the entire process. Counting up marks growth. 

In the case of counting the Omer, we also “ascend” Mt. Sinai for a period of seven weeks. Every day we aim to take one step higher to the apex. Counting up conveys progress. 

This year, I’m excited to launch a series of Facebook posts that weaves two threads together. The first strand is this 50 day Omer count. The second strand is the late-in-the-Seder classic song Echad Mi Yodea, Who Knows One? We learn how every number from 1-13 is significant. But why stop at 13? What if we keep counting? 

I want to combine these ideas. For each day of the Omer, I’ll post where that number appears in the Jewish tradition. As Rabbi Marc Angel teaches, “We count the days so that we will learn to make our days count!” 

Check out daily updates on my new Rabbi Alex Freedman Facebook page.

Chag Sameach.