In Israel, even the most simplistic and mundane things are sure to be a unique experience. For example, for most of us living outside of Israel, when posing for a photo, the typical photographer countdown is 1-2-3-CHEESE! In Israel, the experience is very different. It goes something like this “OK – Shalosh-Arbah-Veh… (3-4-and…).” It takes a second to register, but if you’re not used to it, you’re probably thinking, “What kind of count is THAT?! It starts in the middle and ends with “veh,” it’s neither here nor there! It’s not “normal” counting!
When it comes to counting in the Torah, there are only three places where there is a mitzvah to count a period of time using the language of ‘Sefirah,’ and all three are in Sefer Vayikra. Last week in Parshat Emor, we read about the period we are in now, the mitzvah of Sefirat Ha’Omer – counting the Omer between Pesach and Shavuot. This week in Parshat Behar, we read about the counting up towards Yovel (jubilee year) and Shemitah, and finally, several weeks ago in Parshat Metzora, we read about the Zav and Zava, required to count seven days of their impurity at which point they can go to the mikvah and purify themselves once again.
The Talmud (Menachot 65b) discusses the relationship between these three countings in the Torah and the Halachic implications learned one from another. For example – Is a Bracha said before the counting? Does the counting need to be expressed verbally, or is it enough to be mentally aware of the count?
However, there is a significant difference between the two similar acts of counting that use identical multiples of 7, counting 49 days or years. Sefirat Ha’Omer and this week’s counting towards the jubilee year. The counting of the Omer is in the plural: “U’sefartem lachem.” The counting of the years is in the singular: “Vesafarta lecha.”
The primary difference is whether the counting is an obligation on the individual or only on the Bet Din. In the case of the Omer, counting is a duty of each individual, hence the use of the plural. Whereas in the case of the Jubilee, the counting is the responsibility of the Bet Din, specifically the Sanhedrin. It is the duty of the Jewish people as a whole, performed centrally on their behalf by the court. Hence the singular.
Rabbi Sacks zt”l suggests that this is an essential leadership principle. As individuals, we count the days, but as leaders, we must count the years. As private persons, we can think about tomorrow, but in our role as leaders, we must think long-term, focusing our eyes on the far horizon. The Mishna in Pirkei Avot (2:12) states, “Ben Zoma says, Who is wise? One who foresees the consequences.”
Our challenge is to follow the sage advice of our Chachamim throughout generations. When we make decisions: Count the years, not the days. Make every day count by keeping our eyes fixed on the future.
Rabbi Shlomo Gabay