We Jews have a thing about counting. There are times when we need to count and there are times when we should not count. We need to count people to make sure we have ten for a minyan. We need to count the days in the week to keep track of Shabbat. Have you ever noticed that the Hebrew days of the week are really a way of counting towards the next Shabbat - Sunday is called Yom Rishon (first day), Monday is called Yom Sheini (second day), Tuesday is
Yom Shlishi (third day) etc. The only day that is not counted by a number is Shabbat. We also count the days in a month to track the holidays and the months in the year to know when Pesach occurs and when Rosh Hashanah will begin the new year.
I believe that one of the reasons we count these days is because we Jews care about details. I remember years ago learning about the book, "Don't Sweat the Details" and I was convinced the book was probably not written by a Jewish person. We Jews sweat details because details are important in life including what time Shabbat begins, what days holidays begin and so many others. The more experience we have the more we realize that little things often become big things and we need to take care of details including counting.
One of the unusual Jewish traditions related to counting is that some have the custom of not assigning a number to each individual. We believe that lives are worth more than a number and living now post-Holocaust, when Jews were just assigned a number and that number was tattooed onto people's arms, some say that we should no longer count people with numbers. This raises a challenge when we want to know if we have ten people in the room so that we can start our minyan and mourners can recite the Kaddish. The way to address this is find a Biblical verse with ten words and assign each person a word. Once you have enough people in the room to complete the entire verse, you know you have your ten for the minyan.
Another well-known counting is the Counting of the Omer, the time period we are in now between Passover and Shavuot. Counting the Omer means counting the 49 days and seven weeks between these two major holidays so that they have a spiritual connection. My family and I observe this ritual very closely as we remind each other every evening to count. I even downloaded an app this year that gives me a daily reminder as evening begins that it is time to count the new day. As I observe this ritual of Counting the Omer, I am struck by the fact that in Judaism we count up; each day the number increases. Our tradition says Ma'alin B'Kodesh v'Ein Moridim - that when it comes to rituals, we should increase the number and not diminish it. Rather than counting down to an exciting event, my birthday, an upcoming vacation or celebration, it is wiser to count up, to look forward with excitement as we approach the new day and the major event in our lives.
Counting is important to the Jewish people, not only in terms of counting days or counting people but also in the sense that we are accountable to each other and accountable to God. In this unique time of the year, as we take the time to count our days and our weeks between Passover and Shavuot, I want us also to contemplate these themes. To whom am I accountable? What can I do for the people who are counting on me? What should I do each day to anticipate a major event that is happening soon in my life? I hope in the days and weeks to come, we can work towards answering these questions and deepening our understanding for each of them.
As we begin Shabbat and think about the days and weeks ahead, I share the words of a powerful prayer I often recite with people who have an Aliyah to celebrate a significant birthday that is based on a verse from Psalm 92 - "People may count the days of their life, but a person of wisdom makes every day count."
Rabbi Adam Feldman