Office of the Chief Rabbi

Thought for the Day: counting down the days

In his latest ‘Thought for the Day’ for BBC Radio 4, the Chief Rabbi ties in the Premier League season and the upcoming festival of Shavuot to encourage listeners to make every moment count. He explores why we count up, rather than down, from 1 to 49 during the Omer – the period elapsing between Passover and Shavuot – and identifies it as a time for character development.

“For some, it’s that most dreaded weekend of the year again – the end of the Premier League season. But football enthusiasts can look on the bright side. On 17th June, in 26 days’ time, next seasons’ fixture list will be announced and then on August 8th, only 78 days from now, the new season begins.

We frequently measure out the amount of time until an event or occasion that we’re really excited about. One often hears children exclaim that there are only a certain number of ‘sleeps’ until their next birthday or before going on holiday.
Somehow, by measuring the number of days (or nights), that distant dream feels a little closer.

“Most uniquely, we stay up all night to study fresh insights into what it means to live our lives according to our traditional values”

Since the early part of Passover last month, Jews around the world have been counting the days until the festival of Shavuot – or Pentecost, which begins tomorrow night. On Shavuot we celebrate the giving of the Torah by God to the Jewish nation at Mount Sinai – perhaps the single most defining event in the creation of Jewish faith. We join with friends, family and community in prayer and joyous feasting, but uniquely, we also stay up all night to enthusiastically study fresh insights into what it means to live our lives according to our traditional values.

The seven week period of counting is known as the ‘Omer’. Every one of those 49 days is counted individually with a special blessing – until eventually the day arrives. Interestingly, we don’t count down to Shavuot. We count up. Instead of starting at 49 and decreasing every day, we count up from 1 to 49. Why?

“There is an expectation that in order to merit receiving the Torah on Shavuot, we must have used every day to improve ourselves”

The Omer is an opportunity to work on one’s character, to develop and grow as a person. The great lesson here is that the journey of time is not something to be endured or tolerated until we reach our desired destination. On the contrary, every moment along the way is precious and must be squeezed for every ounce of potential. There is an expectation that in order to merit receiving the Torah on Shavuot, we must have used every day, leading up to it, to improve ourselves in a meaningful way. By extension, we should consider every moment of our lives as an opportunity to have a truly meaningful and positive impact on those around us, using every second of every day for the betterment of our world.

Life can be measured in seasons, whether football or meteorological but, in reality, every moment of every day counts.”

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