Why do we count up for the Omer?

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The seven weeks between Pesach and Shavuot, known as the period of the Omer, are filled with additional halachot (laws). We put ourselves into mourning as we commemorate the losses of many Jews over the ages at this time of year, among them Rabbi Akiva’s 24,000 students. Until the 33rd day of the Omer (Lag B’Omer), we refrain from getting haircuts, shaving, getting married and listening to music.

For many this is a significant religious period since we have additional laws to follow, including one that has nothing to do with mourning: a nightly counting of which of the 49 total nights of the Omer it is. Some, however, may not appreciate or recognize its significance. And in temple times, the Omer offering was brought on the second day of Pesach on the first day of the harvests and waved on that day, brought along with a pure sheep (Vayikra 23: 10-12).

But if the Omer is such a harsh period in which we have to follow more small, detailed procedures, why do we count up the days instead of counting down until it is over, or until we receive the Torah again on Shavuot?

The reason is as modern as it is old.

During the seven weeks after we left Egypt, we were confused and corrupt since we had just been liberated from 210 years of slavery. We didn’t have many laws, let alone the Torah itself. Back then in our first year in the desert, it wasn’t like today when we could just count once a day for 49 days until we receive the Torah again — they didn’t even have a Torah! They barely had any laws! Obviously Bnei Yisrael didn’t know when or if they would get a set unit of laws like the Torah so they couldn’t “count down until receiving it.

If they even had counted, it would have had to be counting up the days from leaving Egypt until Matan Torah!

Just as back then Bnei Yisrael had to count up the days until its eventual receiving of the Torah, we too count up. The actual commandment in the Torah is to count for seven weeks (Vayikra 23:15), commemorating that the Torah was given on that 50th day.  More guidance comes from Gemara Shabbat 21B, where it is stated in regards to lighting the menorah on Chanukah ma’alin b’kodesh v’ain moridin — we only increase in holiness and do not decrease. So too, we count the days up until Matan Torah so that we do not decrease in holiness before we receive the Torah again.

If you counted all the way through this year, yashar koach! Although Bnei Yisrael did not know what lay ahead of them, they counted every one of those days. We can take this as a metaphor not only to count the Omer every year, but to never give up. Bnei Yisrael had no clue when anything would happen, but they still counted. We do not know when Moshiach will come, but we still hope and pray every day. We will not be redeemed if for example all Jews keep one Shabbat. Rather, we must all try to do as much as we can, even small things that don’t take a lot to do – things like counting the Omer.

Overall, it is important never to give up and to always persevere. Bnei Yisrael did not know what their future looked like, they still counted up the days of the Omer. If something is going wrong, don’t give up and count down the seconds, make the best out of your situation and be positive –  count up!

And keep in mind that even if it is in another lifetime, we will still be redeemed by Hashem.  So take a lesson from Bnei Yisrael and the Omer to look ahead and not to count it down.

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