I can remember a time when I was a child, eager to go on a family vacation to an amusement park, asking my parents, “Are we going tomorrow?”
My mother responded, “Only three more sleeps!”
That was a good way to think about it. I thought that if I just slept, the day would come faster. As the time passed, my anticipation grew, and I could no longer keep my eyes closed. Finally, that day arrived and my excitement was turned up all the way to eleven.
For an observant Jew, it is critical to be familiar with the calendar. If you don’t know what day a holiday falls on, it can pass by unnoticed. An opportunity to interact with the Creator of the universe comes and goes and you stood him up for the meeting.
I have recently been reading the book Kiddush HaShem by Sholem Asch, which tells the story of Jews present during the pogroms in the Ukraine during the seventeenth century. The book opens with a Jewish innkeeper and his wife arguing over what day of the week it was. What a tragedy for a Jew not to know what day of the week it is! They were at risk of desecrating the Sabbath and possibly every one afterward.
How do we know on what day of the week the Sabbath falls? Jews and believers in HaShem have counted up to Shabbat each week in an unbroken chain going back to the first week of Creation. One, two, three, four, five, six, Shabbat.
The Torah commands that Jews keep the Festival of Shavu’ot (known to Christians as Pentecost), but does not give us a date for when we must do so. How are we to know? What if we don’t have a calendar to tell us when it occurs? It’s like someone telling you he wants to make an appointment that he expects you to appear at but doesn’t tell you when to pencil it in.
Leviticus 23:15-21 teaches that seven full weeks must be counted after the rest day of Passover and then Israel should celebrate the Festival of Weeks (Shavu’ot). So Shavu’ot falls fifty days after Passover, according to the mainstream Jewish reckoning. This period of counting is known as the Counting of the Omer. The first day of the count corresponds to the resurrection of our Messiah Yeshua and the culmination coincides with the day that the Spirit was poured out upon his disciples as they worshiped in the Temple. According to Jewish tradition, Shavu’ot was also the day of the giving of the Ten Commandments and the covenant made with Israel at Mount Sinai.
It might seem natural to count down to such a momentous event. As a boy, I was thrilled to shout along as the clock counted down from ten until the space shuttle broke free from the chains of earth to soar like a fiery chariot into the heavens. So why not start at forty-nine and count down until the anniversary that heaven met earth with fire and smoke upon the mountain to set men free from the chains of their own creation? It is Jewish tradition to count up for forty-nine days.
As we number the days, we ascend spiritually. It is as if we are climbing the mountain to meet together with the God of the universe to receive the Torah and the Spirit anew.
Since the Torah states that seven full weeks ought to be counted, we count each day at nightfall after the evening prayers. We join millions of voices directed toward heaven in a wave that surges around the globe, “Blessed are you, LORD, our God, King of the universe, who has sanctified us by his commandments and has commanded us to count the Omer. Today is the _____ day of the Omer.” And when we have reached a full week we count saying, “Today is the _____ day which is _____ week(s) and ______day(s) of the Omer.” In this way we make sure to count each day and each full week as the Torah commands.
Finally, when at night we count the forty-ninth day and seven full weeks of the Omer, we arrive together to join the multitude that no one can count standing at the foot of Mount Sinai upon which sits the very throne of God to receive the Torah from the author of all that was, is, and will be.
Unfortunately, we don’t know the day when our Messiah will return and the glory of the LORD will be revealed on Mount Zion. We don’t know how many days to count until then, but counting up the days to Shavu’ot can teach us how to make every day count.