This Shabbat is the 39th day of the Omer. Nearly six of the seven weeks from Pesach to Shavuot have passed.

The Sefer HaChinuch (Spain 13th cent.) poses an obvious question. If the Omer count represents the time that the Israelites, having left Egypt, anticipated receiving the Torah on Mt Sinai, why do we count up? Wouldn’t it be more appropriate to count down? 40 days until Shavuot…39, 38, 37…

He quotes Maimonides (d.1204) who compares the Omer count to two people, deeply in love, who have been parted. They are eagerly counting off the days till they will be reunited. In that case, says the Chinuch, it would make more sense to count down to the appointed time. Only 5 days left, only 4, only 3…

He answers that since the road to Shavuot is long, it would be discouraging if we had to count 49 long days until Shavuot.  It is easier to focus on what we have accomplished. One day has passed; two days have passed, etc.

Rabbi J B Soloveitchik (d. 1993) offers a different explanation. He suggests that when the Jews left Egypt, G-d did not tell them the precise date when they would receive the Torah!

We have seen this pattern before. When Abraham left Charan, G-d commanded him: “lech lecha – Go… to the land which I will show you.” He didn’t specify which land that would be. Again, when Abraham and Isaac are sent to the Akeidah, G-d commanded him to “go…to one of the mountains that I will point out for you” G-d didn’t reveal the location in advance.

Rabbi Soloveitchik says that matters of deep religious faith are not given to us with precision and certainty, right from the outset. Full details are only clarified nearer the time. Faith implies uncertainty. So, the Jews who left Egypt did not know exactly when they would receive the Torah. They had no idea, in advance, how long the journey to Sinai would take. Today, when we re-enact our ancestors’ count to Sinai, we also count upwards as our forefathers did when they left Egypt.  We remind ourselves of their uncertainty, which is an integral component of religious experience.

Next Wednesday is Yom Yerushalayim, commemorating 57 years since we regained Jerusalem and the Kotel. We rejoice in what we have achieved, and we hope and pray that we are now approaching the final lap of our journey towards Mashiach and a better world. But we do not know for certain. We cannot know. The barbaric events of October 7th and its aftermath, with a tragic loss of life on both sides and a worldwide increase in antisemitism, challenge us to find meaning in the face of adversity. The Omer count reminds us that each day, we are closer to our goal. All we can do is to cherish each day and do our best to deserve our ultimate redemption.