Forty Nine Days


Today are sixteen days, which are two weeks and two days of the Omer.

Counting of the Omer for Iyar 1

We are accustomed to thinking of time as a fixed yardstick against which our lives are measured. We “pass through” time (or time passes us by) at an unalterable pace. Time deeply affects everything about us and everything we do, but we have no effect upon it.

Physical science has since refuted this cursory perception of time, demonstrating how time, like any other physical phenomenon, is in fact quite malleable. It can be concentrated, stretched, speeded up, slowed down, or stopped altogether. This, of course, is achieved mostly on paper or by computer simulation. In practice, time’s dictatorial rule of our lives seems absolute. The irrevocability of the past, the uncompromising temporality of the present, the impregnable fog of the future—man still seems very much a creature subject to time, rather than the other way around.

The Torah, however, insists that man can master time, transcend it, and redefine it. One example of man’s triumph over time is teshuvah (“return”)—the power to reach back in time and transform the significance of one’s past deeds.[1] And time itself, according to Torah, is a resource to be molded and developed by man, as man is charged to mold and develop all resources of G-d’s creation. Time can be sanctified—made more porous and absorbent of the all-pervading reality of its Creator—as it is when it is utilized toward good and G-dly ends. Time can be imbued with joy, freedom, love, awe, wisdom and a host of other spiritual characteristics—as we do when we set the calendar and thereby determine the dates of the festivals. And time can be accumulated.

From Passover to Shavuot, we conduct a daily count of the days and weeks in reenactment of the forty-nine-day process of self-refinement which our ancestors underwent from their exodus from Egypt on the first day of Passover to the revelation at Sinai on Shavuot.[2] “Today is one day of the Omer,” we pronounce on the second evening of Passover; “Today are two days…,” we say on the following evening; “Today are three days…” on the next, and so on. Seven weeks later we conclude the count and climb to Sinai with the statement, “Today are forty-nine days, which are seven weeks of the Omer.”

Two questions come to mind concerning the manner of the count. If we are counting the days to Sinai, why don’t we state how many remain until Shavuot, instead of the number that have passed since Passover? Also, “Today are two days” seems awkward if not inaccurate; would it not be more correct to say, “Today is the second day,” “Today is the third day,” and so on?

But we do not merely pass through the days between Passover and Shavuot—we accumulate them. Each of these forty-nine days embodies another spiritual achievement—the refinement of another aspect of our personality and character. Each of these days becomes a component of our reborn selves, as we internalize the freedom obtained at the Exodus as the essence of our commitment to G-d as His chosen people. On the second day of the count, we possess two days of the Omer process; by its final day, we shall have amassed forty-nine units of time, and the specific qualities they embody, with which to approach this year’s experience of Sinai.

Based on numerous talks and writings by the Rebbe, including a letter dated Nissan 28, 5724 (April 10, 1964)[3]

Adapted from the teachings of the Rebbe by Yanki Tauber.

[1] Talmud, Yoma 86b; Tanya, ch. 7.

[2] See The Journey, WIR, vol. IX, no. 29.

[3] Likkutei Sichot, vol. VII, p. 284.


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herb harker
15 years ago

i am a new traveller in my world of curiousity.i am searching for wisdom.i feel strongly that as a person born and raised in the christian cult of judaism that something is missing in the faith i was raised in.i dont know what it is exactly but i just feel that i am not getting a full plate from what i was taught.i feel strongly that a deeper knowledge of rabbinical/torah/ will enable me as a spiritual being to become closer to g-d. i would like to add that spelling g-d this way is enlightening.

13 years ago

Thank you R Jacobson for sharing your Torah knowledge with us. Hopefully this will lead us to being better people with stronger middot.

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