From Rabbi Craig Mayers
April / May 2021
Living on the Space Coast as we do, you might say we’re very aware – obsessed even
– with countdowns. Heck, our area code (321) was even picked for that reason! We’re used to watching countdowns on the TV or online, or listening on the radio, and then running outside to watch the launch that follows. We do love our launches and the amazing space programs that surround us!
But in the days and weeks between Pesach and Shavuot where we now find ourselves, we are instead focused on counting UP – not down. We count the days until Shavuot, when we re-enact the receiving of Torah, and act as though it is a current event instead of a millennia-old historical memory. From the second night of
Passover, we count each day – the Omer – until we reach 50 and that is of course Shavuot. But why do we count up and not down?
Rabbi Joseph Soloveitchik explained why we count the Omer up instead of as a countdown. He said we count the Omer today to reenact the counting of days from leaving Egypt until receiving the Torah. But during the time of the Exodus, the Israelites had no way of knowing on which date they’d receive the Torah, because G-d does not always reveal all such details to us. They had no idea when the T-0 time would be, to put it in space terms. So, we count UP.
This, still, was a matter of debate, and our counting of time was discussed by the great rabbis of old. In the Talmud, the rabbis discuss a debate between the Academy of Shammai and the Academy of Hillel about how to celebrate Chanukah: Shammai argued that we should start with eight candles on the first night and count DOWN to one candle on the final night, while Hillel argued the very opposite. The rabbis ultimately sided with Hillel based on the principle of “Ma’alin bakodesh, ve’ein moridin”—in matters of holiness, we should always ascend and never descend. So, we light one candle and go up from there towards eight each Chanukah. Applying this principle to the Omer is then simple and makes good sense. We count UP to Shavuot, as we work on our middot (attributes) and refine ourselves (hopefully increasing our holiness) , as we prepare to receive the Torah once again.
None of this will stop us of course from counting down along with the next rocket launch, and that’s okay, as long as we remember there are times in our life – like the Omer – when it is more appropriate to count up. As we launch and blast off from Passover, may we all find new meaning in our count-up to the beautiful holiday of Shavuot!