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may / june 2007:

30 Second Sermon
Shavuot is a time for counting. We cound down. We count up. It's all just a numbers game.

By Rabbi Ezra M. Cohen

Counting can be an interesting endeavor. The Torah teaches us to count the days between the festivals of Passover and Shavuot and these seven weeks are called the counting the omer. But what exactly is the purpose of this counting?

Counting refers to a certain time in the future that is anxiously anticipated and desired. It refers to a situation where we are presently in the here and now, but we desire to be “there” at the final destination. We count the days to a wedding, a vacation, or a special event — counting bridges the gap between now and then. This way we can feel the desired moment approaching.

When we long for something in the future like a wedding or a vacation, we count down to that event. Two months, three weeks, three days, we are getting closer and closer each day. So why is it, then, that if we long for the festival of Shavuot do we count upward as we do each night — 1,2,3? We should be counting down to the day we await.

The counting that we do is not meant to be a sentimental passing of time until we reach Shavuot; but rather the counting is a process of development as each day passes. When we count down to a vacation, the days leading to it are not significant. In fact, we would like them to pass as soon as possible. By counting downwards we are showing that the days until the event are meaningless. We are merely counting the passage of time, which at the time of the event will equal zero, nothing.

In the case of the omer, on the other hand, we count upwards. The omer is a time for growth, one day builds on the previous — 1,2,3, and so on until we have 49 days of spiritual growth and reach a level befitting a people ready to accept the Torah as the Jewish people did many years ago on the festival of Shavuot.

Rabbi Ezra M. Cohen is the Assistant Director of the Manhattan Jewish Experience.

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