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The Countdown

Why do we count Sefirat HaOmer upwards instead of counting down till the giving of the Torah?

A man needed one million dollars for an expensive and complex operation that only one hospital in the whole world could do. He wasn’t sure how he’d get the money for this life saving operation. But to his good fortune a wealthy and kind man found out about the man who needed the operation and was happy to help. He was wrapping up a deal in a few months that would earn him tens of millions so he was happy to show gratitude to G-d and help someone needy with one million.

The money was slated to come in one hundred days and the wealthy man’s original plan was to give the money to the man who needed it then. But then he thought if he makes the sick man wait each day would be torturous for him so the wealthy man came up with a better idea. He invented a small job that the sick man could do for him every day and he would receive ten thousand dollars a day for the next hundred days. In this way the man wouldn’t feel the pain of waiting and he would actually look forward to each day as bringing him closer to his goal of a million dollars that he needed for his operation. The man also wouldn’t miss a day of work so as not to lose out on his great wage.

With this story we can understand the mitzvah of Counting the Omer which is brought down in Emor. We count as we come towards the Giving of the Torah on Shavuot. The time we receive the Torah is like our wedding as a nation to G-d. But when a person looks forward to his wedding he counts down the days to the wedding. Why would he count the days that passed? So why is our counting of the Omer a count of days past?

The answer is because counting these days isn’t just the act of ticking off another box on the calendar towards the great day of receiving the Torah. Each day is meant for spiritual work, to purify and sanctify ourselves. Every day we add more holiness doing positive steps toward the receiving of the Torah. These are necessary steps to become worthy of receiving the Torah.

The Zohar states that when we were in Egypt we were under the rule of evil powers (in the spiritual sense. The physical exile was only a manifestation of the spiritual impurity we were in). When G-d took us out of Egypt we had to purify ourselves and count 7 weeks just as a woman counts seven days of purification after her menstrual cycle before she can become ritually pure.  The Torah says: “You should count for yourselves” this means count for yourselves, you are the one who benefits from this counting. You purify yourself to become worthy of receiving the Torah. The Zohar concludes that someone who doesn’t count the Omer doesn’t gain the purity of these days.

So what message is here for us and how do we go about this?

The Maharsha says that the Omer offering is from barley, animal food. That’s what we start with the second day of Passover. On Shavuot the offering is two breads from wheat flour, ‘people food’. Our counting started on the second day of Passover and it’s a hint to the fact that we were coarse and impure, not ready to receive the Torah. This is symbolized by the barley.  Slowly we count and raise ourselves to the point we can receive the Torah and then we‘ve reached the level of people, symbolized by the wheat bread offering.

This is what is demanded of us; to rise above the animalistic and material aspects hidden inside us. To strengthen and use our intellect to overcome these inclinations and desires that want to burst out; to strengthen the soul in the mind over the lowly desires of the heart.

No one said it’s easy, but it’s imperative to do this to be worthy to receive the Torah.