Why do we count our days for God?


Fresh-cut daffodils were always present on mother’s Passover Seder table; approximately one dozen flowers taken from a small patch of garden growing in the backyard. In central New Jersey daffodils on the Passover Seder table were a “Groundhog Day” kind of statement: Spring has arrived! It wouldn’t be long before the weather would change and we would all be headed to school in shirt sleeves. This is one of the many reasons why Passover is my favorite celebration.

Parashat Emor reminds us through its instruction regarding the festival calendar that Judaism is a religion of time and that holy days are not simply “days off,” but sacred occasions for celebrating sanctifying our lives. To be a Jew includes understanding that every moment in life represents an opportunity that will not come again, an opportunity to make every day count.

The counting of the omer in this week’s parasha is all about counting days and making them count.

And from that day on which you bring the sheaf of elevation — the day after the Sabbath — you shall count off seven Sabbaths. They must be complete: you must count until the day after the seventh Sabbath — 50 days — then you shall bring an offering of new grain to God. [Leviticus 20 3:15 – 16]

Rabbi Levi Yitzhak of Berditchev, a revered Hasidic master who lived in the late 18th and early 19th century saw in this week’s parasha a lesson about true prayer that emerges out of the counting of the omer and the counting of our days.

Rabbi Levi Yitzhak teaches that the first day of Passover, a Sabbath day, is linked in a direct way to the first Sabbath day of creation. According to Levi Yitzhak, God had intended from the beginning to have a specific relationship with a specific group of people. Thus the first Sabbath of creation achieved its full reality only after the redemption from Egypt on the first night of Passover.

“The chief desire of the Jewish people,” in the eyes of Levi Yitzhak, “is to be able to worship God with a whole heart.” And when we approach God with a whole heart we have the opportunity to become “lost in our prayer;” to worship God and fully.

We are human; it is a natural part of our spiritual lives to pray for food, clothing, health, success, our children, money and personal happiness. It is not the highest form of prayer but it is natural and important. Contrary to what we might think, the highest form of prayer is not praise of God in nature or in history; as Creator of all things and Judge. The highest form of prayer, Levi Yitzhak teaches, is the deep desire to serve God with a whole heart, the yearning to be nothing but God’s servant. It must be a passion so deep that we forget not only our personal needs, but the needs of our community as well.

How shallow most of our prayers seem in comparison. Levi Yitzhak urges us to stretch beyond our self-imposed limitations and reach out for that experience of becoming totally lost in God and allowing our spirits to soar.

Shall we simply count the days of our lives or shall we make the days of our lives count? It takes courage, training and effort to allow ourselves to get lost in God. Then again, it takes courage, training and effort just to journey through this wilderness we call life. Time may be many things to many people, but it is above all else, unforgiving. Once a moment passes, it is gone.

Let us take to heart the lesson of our tradition to learn to count our days, to acquire a heart of wisdom, to serve God with a whole heart, and to make every day count.

Rabbi Joshua S. Taub of Temple Emanuel prepared this week’s Torah portion.