The Book of Psalms tells us “Number our days so we gain a heart of wisdom.” The Jewish sages took this verse literally. They instructed their communities to count the days between the holiday of Passover and festival of Pentecost.
We count the days by saying a blessing over each of them. This little-known tradition has its roots in the agricultural cycle. On the second day of Passover, Israelite farmers would cut down the first sheaf of the barley harvest. A measure of this grain was called on “omer.”
For the next 50 days the farmers would harvest the rest of the barley. They would count the harvest each day. On the final and 50th day, Pentecost, they brought the first wheat offering of the season to the Temple in Jerusalem.
Transforming an Ancient Practice
This practice ended after the destruction of the Temple by the Romans in 70 C.E., Yet, counting these days had become a part of Jewish tradition. The rabbis reimagined it as a way of marking the connection between God’s freeing of the Israelites from Egypt and the giving of the Torah at Mount Sinai. This made sense because the time lapse between the two events was about 50 days.
When we count these days, we reenact symbolically the journey of the ancient Israelites. In the Jewish mystical tradition, each day is also linked with a certain quality of character or teaching. In my own practice, I choose a different value to focus on each day and unique biblical passage to consider.
Slavery Can Be Seductive
This practice of counting our days also echoes the lesson of Passover. Passover is about freedom, and the essence of freedom is having control over our time.
We see evidence of this truth in an odd item: the Crackberry. Before its demise, the blackberry had this amusing nickname. Checking it compulsively fed our appetites for the latest and greatest. It beckoned for our attention at every moment. What had been meant to give us greater freedom became a new form of enslavement.
Counting our days reminds us that time is freedom. When we bless it with our words and our deeds, we gain a heart of wisdom.