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Rabbi Doniel Staum - Parshas Emor 5771 "Counting Days"
by Rabbi Doniel Staum, LMSW

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EMOR 5771


Imagine there is a bank that credits your account with $86,400 each morning. It carries over no balance from day to day, and every evening it deletes whatever part of the balance you fail to use during the day. Wouldn’t you try to use every cent?

Every day has 86,400 seconds. Every second used well is yours forever. Every second wasted is lost forever.

Time waits for no one. Yesterday is history. Tomorrow is a mystery. Today is a gift. That's why it’s called the present.[1]

The clock is ticking.

Throughout my High School years, somewhere towards the end of May, on the upper right-hand corner of the board in front of the classroom was posted the countdown of how many days were left until graduation. I remember watching the decreasing numbers enviously. Finally when I was a senior my classmates and I enjoyed the experience for ourselves. As the numbers decreased our excitement proportionately increased. Then on the morning before graduation there was a big number 1 that stood proudly in the box – just one more day; we had made it!

Truthfully, I loved High School, including my classmates, the student body, my rabbeim, and the atmosphere that pervaded the yeshiva. It was a special four years and an experience I knew I would miss. But graduation is an exciting milestone and so I couldn’t help but get swept up in the graduation fever and the final countdown.

Unlike all other holidays, Shavuos is not identified by a calendar date, but rather as the fiftieth day of the Omer count[2].

“You shall count for yourselves… seven weeks they shall be complete. Until the morrow of the seventh week you shall count, fifty days; and you shall offer a new meal-offering to G-d.[3]

The Sefer Hachinuch[4] explains the purpose of the counting of the Omer: “We are to count from the day after the first (day of the) Yom Tov of Pesach until the day of the giving of the Torah (i.e. Shavuos) to demonstrate in our souls our tremendous desire for the honored day, for which our hearts pine like a servant yearns for shade. He should count constantly in anticipation ‘when will that desired time come when I will achieve my freedom?’ Counting demonstrates to a person that all of his hope and desire is to arrive at that time.”

There is a glaring question that emerges from the Sefer Hachinuch’s beautiful explanation of Sefiras Haomer: If the point of counting is to demonstrate our passionate and unbridled excitement for Shavuos, the anniversary of the day we received the Torah, why are we counting upwards? If our focus is only on our destination in time then the time that passed is seemingly irrelevant[5]. Would it not be more logical to count how many days are left?

Rabbi Shimshon Pinkus zt’l explains with a parable: If a desperately impoverished man wins the lottery and is informed that in thirty days he will receive a million dollars in one lump sum, those thirty days will feel like an eternity to him. The only thing between him and the money is the passage of the requisite amount of time, and so he will impatiently wait for those days to pass.

However, if the impoverished man who won the million dollar jackpot was told that he will receive ten thousand dollars a day for a hundred days, to him the days will pass all too quickly. The experience of getting such a significant amount of money each day is so enjoyable that he will savor the experience. Each day equals another ten thousand dollars in his pursuit of the full million. To him the days aren’t a mere period of waiting but a continual process of receiving his newfound fortune. Every day is invaluable to him.

The forty-nine day count to Shavuos and the receiving of the Torah is not merely a countdown of time. Rather, each day is a period of growth, a continuous amassing of spiritual greatness in preparation for our reacceptance of the Torah. The days of the counting of the Omer represent forty-nine days of spiritual treasures.

Rabbi Avigdor Miller zt’l[6] noted that Sefiras Haomer teaches us that we must count our days for each day is invaluable. “Every day is a precious bauble. Whether it is raining outside or snowing, the day is a precious opportunity. There is no such thing as spare time. If a person should live to the age of one hundred and twenty, when he reached his last day, he would still believe it had come too quickly. Think – what would you do if you only had one day of life? How valuable would that one day be?”

Rabbi Chaim Volozhiner zt’l would say that the greatest mussar shmooze (ethical discourse) in the world is a ticking clock. The clock continues to tick moment after moment, indicating the constantly fleeting passage of time.

Dovid Hamelech beseeches G-d[7], “Teach us to count our days, then we shall acquire a heart of wisdom.” He who knows how to take advantage of his time truly possesses a wise heart.

During the 1500s a Jewish man was arrested on trumped up charges. Despite the brutality of the prison the warden offered to grant him any one day to leave jail to pray in a synagogue.

The prisoner’s first thought was that he should choose Yom Kippur so he could spend the holiest day of the year in shul. Then he thought perhaps Pesach the holiday of our national freedom and the night of the Seder presented the greatest need for community. On Purim he might not have the chance to hear the Megillah unless he was in a synagogue.

The prisoner sent his question to the Radvaz[8]. The Radvaz replied that he should request his amnesty for the following day! There is no greater opportunity than the present. If he has the chance to daven with a minyan he should do so at the next available chance he has[9].

Rabbi Shach zt’l[10] commented that from when he reached the age of fifty he would say to himself every morning, “Lazar, remember today may be your last day. Make the most of it.”

The lesson of Sefiras Ha’omer is timeless: “Don’t count your days; make your days count!” After a week of weeks trying to internalize the incredible value of every day and every moment, then we are ready to receive the eternal transcendent Torah anew.

“You shall count for yourselves”

Then we shall acquire a heart of wisdom.”

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[1] A different version: "Yesterday is a canceled check; tomorrow is a promissory note; today is the only cash you have - so spend it wisely" (Kay Lyons)

[2] which begins on the second day of Pesach, when the Omer offering was brought upon the altar

[3] Vayikra 23:15-16

[4] Mitzvah 306

[5] Such as when we were counting towards graduation we didn’t start fifty days before and count upwards to fifty, we counted how many days were left!

[6] “The Path of Life”, parshas Emor

[7] Tehillim 90:12

[8] Rabbi Dovid ben Zimra (1480 – 1573) Chief Rabbi of Egypt, Teshuvos HaRadvaz 13

[9] The Radvaz bases his response on the rule of “Ayn ma’avirin al hamitzvos – we do not pass over an opportunity to perform a mitzvah”. Therefore one must take advantage of the first available opportunity to perform a mitzvah that becomes available to him; also see Chacham Tzvi 106 who questions the Radvaz.

[10] Rabbi Eliezer (Lazer) Shach zt’l was the acknowledged Ponovezher Rosh Yeshiva and leader of the Yeshivah world who lived to 108 years old.

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