PARSHAT EMOR

THE COUNT

“From the day on which you bring the sheaf of elevation offering—the day after the sabbath—you shall count off seven weeks. They must be complete.”  (Leviticus 23:15)

            When my children were young, we used to watch Sesame Street together. It is a wonderful educational show for children.  And one of our favorite characters was the Count, with the heavy Transylvanian accent patterned after Count Dracula.  The Count loved to count.  He taught the children about numbers.  I wonder if the Count was Jewish.

            Jewish tradition loves to count.  For example, we do not have names for the days of the week.  We have numbers.  Sunday is the first day, Monday is the second day, so on, counting down towards the Sabbath.  Although the months of the year have names, the Bible looks at the months by numbers.  Passover falls on the fifteenth day of the first month, Rosh Hashana falls on the first day of the seventh month.  We also count down our years.  According to Jewish tradition, this year is 5784 since the creation of the world.  (You do not need to take this number literally.)  By the way, Jews who use the secular calendar do not say 2024 A.D.  A.D. means Anno Domini which means “the year of our Lord.”  It is a Christian count.  Jews say C.E. (the common era) instead.  Nor do they say B.C. which means Before Christ.  We say B.C.E. (before the common era) instead.

            This time of year in the Jewish calendar is the most important for those who like to count.  It is the period known as the Counting of the Omer.  It begins the night after the first day of Passover, the night of the second seder.  (The Torah says the night after the Sabbath, but the Rabbis interpreted it to mean the night after Passover.)  Every night we count both the days and weeks, until we read 49 days or 7 weeks.  Then the next day, the fiftieth of the count, is the festival of Shavuot, the day of the giving of the Torah.  The counting of the Omer links Passover (the festival of freedom) with Shavuot (the festival of revelation.)  Freedom does not mean anarchy; it means moving towards something.  The counting of the Omer gives us something to look forward to.

            As I count the Omer and anticipate Shavuot, eating my wife’s delicious blintze souffle (a once-a-year treat), I realize that counting means anticipation.  We count the days towards something.  It makes us look forward to a future event.  Our expectations grow as the day gets closer.

 I think of the few times I have tried to buy concert tickets on-line.  Imagine Taylor Swift is coming to your community, and you are counting down the days to get those precious tickets.  You go on the website and see that tickets will go on sale in 5 days, 11 hours, 22 minutes, and 36 seconds.  You count down the time.  Of course, we know what will happen.  The moment the website opens up, the tickets will totally sell out within 30 seconds.  Most people will be locked out.  If you want tickets, you will have to go on StubHub or some other secondary market at a jacked-up price.  But that is a different issue.  The ticket seller wants to build excitement by having you count down.

One of the first things we teach children is how to count.  We play hide-and-seek and have them count to 10 while we hide.  We feed them, pretending like the fork is an airplane, and count down until we move the fork towards their mouth.  We watch spaceships take off and follow the count down.  I doubt that any other animals know how to count.  But counting is part of what makes us human.

There is a fascinating question philosophers ask.  Did numbers exist before humans came on the earth, so that we humans discovered them?  Or did humanity invent numbers once they evolved on this earth?  It is a philosophical question beyond the scope of this brief essay.  But meanwhile, let us celebrate the Count and the joy of numbers.