Counting Upward: Sefirat HaOmer


Dear Rabbi,

Why do we have a mitzvah of counting aloud forty-nine days from Passover to Shavuot?

Thank you



  1. The mitzvah of “counting the omer” is a mitzvah from the Torah forty nine days from the bringing of the omer barley offering, which is on the sixteenth day of Nissan. As the Torah says, “And you will count for yourselves from the day after the Shabbat (i.e. from the day after the first day of Passover), from the day of your bringing the omer of waving.” (Lev. 23:15) The mitzvah is to count not only days but also the weeks, as the Torah says, “Seven weeks you will count for yourself.” (Deut. 16:9) The text for the correct way to count can be found in any Siddur.

    What is the reason behind this mitzvah? The Torah is the very essence of the Jewish People. In addition, the reason why God took the Jewish People out of Egyptian slavery on Passover was in order to give them the Torah at Mount Sinai. Receiving the Torah some forty nine days after being freed in Egypt was the most important event in Jewish history. Freedom from slavery in Egypt was not merely a physical freedom (which is no small matter!), but more so was a “spiritual freedom” to become a Jewish nation by receiving the Torah. This is the ultimate freedom and the ultimate good.

    And because of this great and monumental event of receiving the Torah, we were commanded to count from the first day of our freedom from slavery — i.e. the second day of Passover — until the holiday of the giving of the Torah (Shavuot). This shows our great desire in our hearts for the day when the Torah was given to us at Mount Sinai. Therefore, we count “one day, two days, three days etc.” to express our great desire to honor and celebrate the day of the Torah.

    Many ask why we count upward to Shavuot and not do a “countdown” to the day of receiving the Torah. We count “Such and such days have passed… and we do not count “Such and such days do we have left until that day.” These forty nine days of counting until Shavuot were given as a time to cleanse ourselves and prepare for this most significant time of standing as one united nation to hear and receive the Word of God. We count up because each day we grew (and, nowadays, hopefully continue to grow) a level higher each day, one step closer each day to merit the Jewish nation and fulfill the teachings of our Creator.

    Best wishes from the Team