By: Steve Kirschenbaum
The Gemara Kiddushin 30a states the earlier Talmidei Chachamim were called Sofrim, like Ezra HaSofer. Not only were they scribes but they were counters, people who counted the letters of the Torah. For instance, with regard to the letters contained in a Sefer Torah, the letter Vav in the word Gichon is at the center of Torah; Darash Darash Moshe is the center in words. These Sofrim would contemplate these types of configurations to figure out what was the middle and what was the end. What is the significance of counting the letters and words of the Torah, i.e., knowing what the middle letter is, knowing what the letters around it are? Is there a Talmid Chacham today that would take out a Sefer Torah and count the letters to know if the Vav of Gichon is in the first half or second? We seem to be missing something.
There are two types of counting. One count is performed to simply ascertain the total amount. It’s a straightforward physical counting. The counting process is unimportant but is necessary to determine the final number. You count to see if there are ten people in a room for a Minyan. It doesn’t matter who you count first, second, or third. The question is do we have 10 total.
The second type of count is one that has a great Chashivus, that has a great depth to it. When someone counts, one numeration follows the next. The third specifically follows the second and so on. Each count is significant along the way. There’s a Seder HaDevarim, a plan in that which has transpired.
For example, we count Sefiras HaOmer. Simply put, it’s a Mitzvahs Asei but we’re counting the days to determine when Shavuos arrives. Since we don’t want this to come across as just a superficial count, Chazal revealed to us the depth of the days and the progression from the Middah of Chessed to Gevurah, to Tiferes, to Netzach, to Hod, to Yesod, and to Malchus. It’s a progression in preparation for Mattan Torah. For this reason, Chazal revealed this idea to us.
The second example of counting. On Yom Kippur, the Kohen Gadol counted when he sprinkled the blood on the Bein HaBadim, on the Paroches, and as we say on Yom Kippur, Kach Haya Moneh. This is how we counted. Achas, Achas V’Achas, Achas V’Shtaim, Achas V’shalosh. The question is why is this important? Just say that he counted carefully so that he shouldn’t do extra or too few of the Hazaos? The answer is that it’s not a superficial count; this counting was a progression. The Kohen Gadol performed his first Zerika on the Paroches and he thought what a privilege it is to represent Klal Yisrael through this Avodah; as a result, I’m not the same person I was, prior to doing this. Achas, then Achas V’Achas, Achas V’Shtaim, Achas V’Shalosh; each Zerikah is a progression bearing tremendous meaning and significance along the way.
A third example. The first counting we find is counting the days of Maaseh Bereishis, of creation. It says Yom Echad, day one when it should say Yom Rishon, the first day. Rashi asks this question and answers it should have said first on that day G-d was Yachid, there was an Achdus HaShem; in the beginning, it was G-d completely alone. What does that have to do with counting? It should still say Yom Rishon, Yom Sheini in the order of the days — why Yom Echad? Creation is a process and a progression; everything only counts if you realize Yom Echad, that it started with HKBH being the Yachid B’Olamo; the oneness of the entire Briya with HKBH.
In addition to these three examples of counting, certainly, when counting Klal Yisrael, there was a progression. Every Jew’s contribution was meaningful; every Jew meant something more from family to family. Yissachar was counted and then Zevulun; Zevulun’s Parnassa was important because there was a Yissachar behind him, there was a Yissachar that he was supporting. Every single person within Klal Yisrael contributed valuable.
Perhaps we ‘count’ a fifth; we count the days of our lives, which is a continuous count. We count our days, weeks, months, years, and decades. Birthdays come and we notice them. To some, the succession of days is a superficial and meaningless count for a life that involves no progression at all. However, to those whose counting bears meaning, it’s a different kind of tally. We count Ben Arbaim L’binah, Ben Chamishim L’eitza, Ben Shishim L’zikna. Each step of our life perpetually propels us to the higher Madreiga. We aren’t the same person we were yesterday. Counting is meaningful when you’re aware of what you’re moving towards. L’sapeir, Sippur is a Lashon of Sefer, a book. When you count properly, it’s like a book, a progression from the beginning through the middle up to the climax at the end. That’s the type of counting that fosters Chashivus, to count every day over the course of our lives.