The Holy Counting Exercise
Jews are counters. We count the days of the week, the number of hours between eating meat and dairy the numbers of hours in a fast day, the number of Aliyahs to the torah, the nights of Chanukah, the amount of time that dough ferments when we bake matzot. If that is not enough, we count the days to a new month, the years before the Jubilee year. We count the minutes until it is permissible to say the morning, afternoon and evening prayers. We count the plagues and the number of times the High Priest bathes on Yom Kippur. Then we count the number of people necessary to formally thank God for food, the numbers of people we need for a prayer quorum, the days before immersing in a Mikvah and that is just a list while "standing on one foot." I am sure that many of you could add to this counting list.
Interestingly enough, Jews never count people; in fact, we will curve ourselves like pretzels to find ways to count without counting. We may count noses or other body parts or we may do negative counts, such as "not one, not two, not three, etc." Where does this come from?
וְֽ֠הָיָה מִסְפַּ֤ר בְּנֵֽי־יִשְׂרָאֵל֙ כְּח֣וֹל הַיָּ֔ם אֲשֶׁ֥ר לֹֽא־יִמַּ֖ד וְלֹ֣א יִסָּפֵ֑ר וְֽ֠הָיָה בִּמְק֞וֹם אֲשֶׁר־יֵאָמֵ֤ר לָהֶם֙ לֹֽא־עַמִּ֣י אַתֶּ֔ם יֵאָמֵ֥ר לָהֶ֖ם בְּנֵ֥י אֵֽל־חָֽי׃
The number of the people of Israel shall be like that of the sands of the sea, which cannot be measured or counted; and instead of being told, “You are Not-My-People,” they shall be called Children-of-the-Living-God.
From this line of Tanach we learn that the number of Bnei Yisrael (the people of Israel) is like the sand of the sea and should never be counted.
Taken from Sefaria web site
My favorite counting exercise during the Jewish year is counting the Omer. When we count t the Omer we travel back to ancient times in Jewish tradition. Look at this from ReformJudaism.org written by Rabbi Daniel Syme:
The Omer was an ancient Hebrew measure of grain. Biblical law (Leviticus 23:9-11) forbade any use of the new barley crop until an omer was brought as an offering to the Temple in Jerusalem. The Book of Leviticus (23:15-16) also commanded: "And from the day on which you bring the offering . . . you shall count off seven weeks. They must be complete." This commandment led to the traditional practice of S'firat HaOmer, or "Counting the Omer."
The seven weeks of counting the Omer spans the 49 days between the second day of Passover and the beginning of Shavuot. Thus, S'firat HaOmer links the Exodus from Egypt with the giving of the Torah at Sinai. Jewish mystics expanded upon this historical bond, seeing the period as joining the Jewish people's physical (Pesach) and spiritual (Shavuot) redemption.
After the Temple in Jerusalem was destroyed in 70 C.E., the Omer offering could no longer be observed. But the practice of counting the Omer continued and is still observed by many Jews.
The period of time connecting Passover and Shavuot is considered a time time of semi-mourning among traditional Jews. Between the beginning of the counting of the Omer on the second night of Passover and the 33d day, called L'ag B'Omer, there are no weddings and some people do not attend theater or live music. After the 33d day, things ease up quite a bit, but this strange period of counting extends to the joyous early summer holiday of Shavuot the holiday which celebrates the giving of the torah.
Each night during this time, after the sun sets, we count. The ritual blessing that goes along with the counting marks the action as a commandment. If our phone alarm goes off, or we are praying the evening (Ma'ariv) service we remember and we count. If we have the best memory, we also remember and then count. It's important to remember to count, because once you have missed a day you cannot go back to the process. You can still count but without the blessing which makes the mundane counting into a holy act. As you would expect, directly after saying the blessing, we note exactly which day we are on.
So your counting exercise would sound something like this:
Blessed are You, Lord our God, King of the Universe, Who has sanctified us with His commandments and commanded us to count the Omer.
Today is the fifth day of the Omer.
If we were later on in the Omer it would look something like this:
The blessing and then
Today is the 17th day of the Omer which is two weeks and three days of the Omer.
That's it; the end of the story. But is it really? When we say a blessing we do so in order to make a moment special and holy. How do we make this particular series of blessings have more meaning? Prayer is about intentionality, about making something as mundane as counting a meaningful exercise. How can we make this period of counting and blessing more memorable? Let's call it 49 days to a better you. There are ways that we can link this series of blessings with deep and esoteric thoughts, but let's use the next 44 days as a unique opportunity to grow and be reflective. What can you do to make this period of transition one of growth for yourself? What can your intention be as you make this blessing or do this counting?
Is there something about you that you'd like to change gradually over the course of 44 days? Especially during this time when many of us are home, is there something that you'd like to do that will help you or help others? Is there a way that you can end up better, more mature, riper at the end of this time? What would that be for you? Can you set that intention for yourself and work toward it? Can you make your counting count?
The Omer takes us from beginning to ending, from germination to harvest. The Omer starts small and slowly grows. It comes to a conclusion, but it ends on a high, with the receiving of the Torah, a source of great knowledge and inspiration. What is your own personal inspiration which can accompany you through these next weeks? What is a result that you would like to see during a period given to us to count? We don't want to waste a day, a second, a minute. Take a moment to consider; make your counting count.
I'd love to hear your ideas of intentions for the Omer, if they are not too personal. If you are able, add your post to this blog or please send me your ideas. I'd love to hear from you.
Tomorrow (Tuesday, April 14th) will be the 6th night. Challenge yourself and begin the process of having a meaningful count.