One reason for counting the days between Passover and Shavuot is to improve character traits.
By Rabbi Ari Enkin, Rabbinic Director, United with Israel
We currently find ourselves during the period known as “Sefirat Ha’omer” the 50 days between Passover and Shavuot.
We are required to verbally count each of these 50 days every night (49, actually. We don’t count the 50th day…we just begin the holiday of Shavuot celebrations!) As the Torah says: “And you shall count for yourselves from the day after the Shabbat (referring to the first day of Passover), from the day that you bring the Omer [the annual barely offering]…seven complete weeks there shall be…you shall count fifty days (Leviticus 23:15-16).
So there you go. Every night we count up towards the holiday of Shavuot.
There is some discussion, however, whether the mitzva to count the Omer each night is a biblical mitzva or rabbinic one. That’s because there is a view that the mitzva is only truly binding when there is a functioning Temple in Jerusalem. Now that the Temple has been destroyed, most sources insist that although there is still a mitzva to count each night, the mitzva is of a rabbinic level.
Not only are the days counted but the weeks are also counted separately.
So, for example, for the first seven days we count saying: “Today is the… day of the Omer.” But from the seventh day onward the count changes to something like this: “Today is seven days which is one week of the Omer”. And on the eight day, “Today is eight days which is one week and one day of the Omer” and so on. After the count a short prayer for the rebuilding of the Temple in Jerusalem is recited.
There are a number of reasons why we count these days. As mentioned, it is a count between the holiday of Passover and Shavuot.
But on a deeper and more important level it is a count to the day we received the Torah. The Jewish people were taken out of slavery on Passover and were given the Torah 50 days later on Shavuot. Every year on Shavuot we re-create that moment and try to re-live it. For example, many people stay up all night on Shavuot and recite the morning prayers at sunrise at which time we read the story of the Revelation at Sinai which was said to have happened at sunrise.
Another reason we count these 50 days is to work on ourselves — improve our character traits and the way we treat others. Observing the Torah does not just mean behaving properly towards God. We must behave towards our fellow man in an even greater manner.
Our sages teach us that we are to work on ourselves during these days and be able to show something for ourselves and for our behavior when we “accept” the Torah upon ourselves on Shavuot. There are many “Omer Period” self-help guides on improving ourselves with emphasis on working on different attributes every day along with a theme of the week.
Let us use these days to improve our character traits, personalities, and how we get along of others. May we be able to declare to God and ourselves on Shavuot that we truly deserve to receive the Torah and share its message with the world.
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