Why do we count time? What is the meaning of counting our days? What, if any, is a Jewish Philosophy of time? Two renowned writers and scholars shared their thoughts on this topic – Rabbi Joseph B. Soltoveitchik and Rabbi Jonanthon Sacks. The following are some of their ideas to help us gain a deeper understanding of the Omer. First, Rabbi Soloveitchik. In the published Festival of Freedom the very last essay is entitled “Counting Time.” Rabbi Soloveitchik, in his inimitable fashion develops a dialect in his approach to time – that of youth and old age. A young person anticipates what will be and experiences time with great rapidity. He quotes a midrash that says, “At the Red Sea they beheld God as a young warrior, and at Sinai as a gray-beard who teaches children.” Time, for the Rav, is a “merger of past and future, of recollection and anticipation.” This is symbolized by counting. When we count a day of the Omer it only has meaning as part of a continuum. When we say that this is day 14 which is two weeks, this has significance only because of the prior 13 and coming 35 days. Rabbi Sacks, in his hagaddah, has some beautiful opening essays. Two of these essays deal with time – “The Omer and the Politics of Torah” & “Time as a Narrative of Hope.” Here Rabbi Sacks develops the radical change that the Bible offered to our understanding of time. All ancient religions saw God as part of nature. For the Bible, God is part of history. Not only is there a Creator God of Genesis, but also a Redeeming God of Exodus. God cares what goes on in this world. This concept of time is referred to by Lord Sacks as “covenantal time.” That it is our job to imagine a future that is different, and better than the past or present. This is symbolized by the overthrow of the great and mighty Egyptian empire, which, by all rights, should have been theirs forever. Then came God and the Jewish People and we taught them that no empire can last
forever. “The overthrowing of this structure and the unprecedented release of a whole nation from slavery showed that societies are not immutable…Injustice,
oppression, dominance, exploitation, the enslavement of the weak by the strong, are not written into the constitution of the universe…”
These two concepts of time – as juncture of past and future and covenental or
redemptive – provide a framework in which the counting on the days of the omer are given new meaning.
Prepared by Devorah Abenhaim