"You shall then count seven complete weeks after the day
following the [Pesach] holiday when you brought the Omer as a
wave offering, until the day after the seventh week, when
there will be [a total of] 50 days." (Vayikro-Emor
"You shall count seven sabbatical years, that is, seven
times seven years. The period of the seven sabbatical cycles
shall thus be 49 years." (Vayikro 25:8)
There is a count of days, the Sefiras HaOmer, in which
Klal Yisroel is presently engaged. Each individual performs
this count himself.
There was also a count of years, which even in Temple times
received little publicity. Yet, it is also among the
Taryag Mitzvos. At the beginning of every year, the
Sanhedrin counted the number of years that had passed
since the last Yovel year. When the fiftieth year
arrived, the Sanhedrin would sanctify it as the new
Yovel year (Rosh Hashanah 8b).
This mitzvah only applies when all of Klal Yisroel lives in
Eretz Yisroel. For only then is the Yovel year
observed (Rambam, Hilchos Shmittah Veyovel, 10:3).
The count of the Omer, although still fulfilled, is
only derabonon nowadays according to many authorities
(Mishnah Berurah 489:25, Biyur Halocho ad
Here we have two counts of 49 -- one well known, the other
not. Is there any connection between them?
At first glance, there are some superficial similarities.
Something unifies these two mitzvos on a deeper level as
well. At the same time, each bears a unique message.
HaRav Avigdor Nevenzahl, rav of the Old City
of Jerusalem, brings out the common meaning of these mitzvos
(Sichos Lesefer Vayikro): "First of all, we must
understand the meaning of counting. Why is it necessary to
count every day? If the point is to calculate the number of
years (or days), every Jew could make this calculation in the
way most convenient to him -- such as buying a calendar.
"What value did the Torah see in counting, to the extent that
it constitutes a positive commandment on its own?
"There are various explanations. We will explain it in the
following way: Continuous counting emphasizes the
impermanence of the present state. It shows the counter's
dissatisfaction with the current situation.
"One who counts, demonstrates that another day has passed,
then another day, and he still has not reached the target
date which he set for himself. His final goal has not been
realized. This is why tomorrow he will again count. The
counted days of the Omer are not what is important to
"He is working towards the goal of the counting: matan
Torah. The days until that hoped-for date constitute an
impermanent state, only temporary. He wishes they would pass
as quickly as possible, in order to reach the goal of his
"The proof that receiving the Torah is his deepest desire is
very simple: As soon as the day of matan Torah
arrives, he stops counting."
Indeed, receiving the Torah is the deepest
desire of Klal Yisroel. Sefer Hachinuch expresses
this: "Israel exists only for the Torah . . . and it is more
important to them than going from slavery to freedom.
"For this reason, Hashem designated the Exodus from slavery
to be a sign that they would receive the Torah. It is
written, `This will be a sign for you that I sent you: When
you bring the people out of Egypt, you will serve God on this
mountain' (Shmos 3:12) . . . . In other words, you
will receive the Torah -- which is the main purpose of the
people's redemption. It is also their ultimate good.
"The exodus from slavery is a sign for the receiving of the
Torah because the matter of lesser significance always serves
as a sign for what is of greater significance. For this
reason . . . we were commanded to count from the day
following the yom tov of Pesach until the day of
"This shows the deep desire in our hearts to reach that
glorious day. It can be compared to a slave who yearns to
dwell peacefully in the shade; and counts continually towards
the arrival of that longed-for day when he will become
Sefer Hachinuch compares Klal Yisroel after the
exodus from Egypt to a slave who longs for freedom! HaRav
Shlomo Brevda elucidates this astonishing description. He
cites Chazal: "Ein ben chorin elo mi she'oseik beTorah-
- Only those who engage in Torah study are free" (Pirkei
Ovos 6:2). Thus, the only freedom that was important --
for which Klal Yisroel longed -- was spiritual freedom. This
means freedom from the yetzer hora. Such freedom comes
only from Torah. Klal Yisroel looked to the day when they
would be truly free, the day on which they would receive the
HaRav Nevenzahl explains the counting of the
Yovel: "So it is with the counting of the Yovel. The
years until the Yovel are an impermanent state, an in-
between phase. It is only to the Yovel that we look.
Only that year will the Sanhedrin sanctify.
"For fifty years, Klal Yisroel would look to that moment on
Yom Kippur of the Yovel year when the shofar blast
ushered in the Yovel; and signaled the freeing of Hebrew
slaves and the return of ancestral lands to their owners.
This moment would reveal to all Who is the true Master and
There is a common theme to the two countings of 49: counting
towards the Torah. HaRav Nevenzahl develops this theme:
"Indeed, if we consider the final goal of these two countings
. . . we will discover that their superficial similarity --
counting verbally -- is just the tip of the iceberg. They
represent deep concepts which these two holidays (Shavuos and
the Yom Kippur ushering in the Yovel) have in
"The countings and the longing of these two countings are
towards the same end: receiving the Torah. Shavuos is the
festival of matan Torah; but it is not the only one.
Also Yom Kippur is a day of matan Torah. The second
Luchos were given on that day . . . . Thus, after
counting the 49 days we once again receive the first
Luchos; and after counting the 49 years we once again
receive the second Luchos."
Torah brings freedom. The Yovel, which commences on a
day of matan Torah, is a day whose very essence is
freedom. HaRav Nevenzahl explains: "Its physical aspect of
freedom is expressed both in man and in the land from which
he was formed. Any purchase of land . . . is valid only ` .
. . until the Yovel year. It is then released by the
Yovel, so that [the original owner] can return to his
hereditary land' (Vayikro 25:28).
"The Hebrew slave, even the permanent slave whose ear was
pierced, goes free when the Yovel is sanctified . . .
. This freedom even affects the inanimate, since even the
inanimate field becomes `free' in the Yovel. Field
work is then forbidden as it is in Shmittah . . . .
This is the physical aspect of the freedom of that Yom
Kippur. The earthly court proclaims the freedom of the slave
and the land.
"The spiritual aspect of that Yom Kippur's freedom is
proclaimed by the Heavenly Court. That is man's spiritual
freedom from his sins."
Longing for freedom is the common thread
between the counting of the Omer and the counting of
the Yovel. It is freedom which comes through Torah --
freedom from the yetzer hora. This is the message of
the Yovel year: to "reveal to all Who is the true
Master and Owner." We serve Hashem, and none else.
HaRav Nevenzahl continues, "What is the difference between
matan Torah of Shavuos and matan Torah of Yom
"On Shavuos, we received the Torah when we were cleansed from
sin. We were pure and clean. The sin of Odom Horishon, which
until then had stained all of humanity, was erased. `The
defilement ceased' of that sin -- Klal Yisroel had just the
future ahead of them. We were like Odom Horishon in his time,
before he sinned, with a pure world before him. So did the
descent of Torah to this world bring the turning of a new
"But then came the Cheit Ho'eigel, and returned the
world to the darkness of sin, to the state after the
primordial sin. This is how we approach the matan
Torah of Yom Kippur -- with a past which needs cleaning
up, with a load which must be purified. There is need for
atonement. When it comes to atonement, it is hard to be sure
that no trace will remain from the sin.
"Odom Horishon did teshuvah, and was forgiven.
However, his teshuvah was unable to release mankind
from the penalty of eventual death. Similarly, Klal Yisroel
was forgiven for the Cheit Ho'eigel; and Hashem gave
them the second Luchos on Yom Kippur. But they were
different Luchos. They did not reach the level of the
first ones that were broken."
HaRav Nevenzahl concludes, " . . . The laws of Yom Kippur are
indeed more severe than the laws of Shavuos. Nonetheless,
Shavuos alludes to a more elevated state, holier and loftier.
It represents the state of the first Luchos -- before
sin. Thus, when we count the Omer day after day, we
are expressing the inner yearning of the Jewish People to
reach the end of the count: the end of sin's slavery . . .
"With anxious hope, Klal Yisroel counts, as one person, the
passing days. We anticipate the moment we will once again
merit to receive the first Luchos, unblemished and
pure -- on which are engraved true freedom."