July 22, 2024
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In Judaism, math matters during Sefirat HaOmer (Counting of the Omer), which begins on the second day of Pesach and continues for seven (7) weeks until the day before Shavuot. The Sefira-related counting concept requires a daily computation for forty-nine consecutive days, a clocking-ticking countdown to the celebration of the giving of the Torah. If you are a trigonometrician, then Sefirat HaOmer might seem like child’s play but if you suffer from numerophobia (fear of numbers), then the Sefira might seem like a tall task. If you suffer from oudenophobia (fear of the number zero), fear not because Sefirat HaOmer actually is more of a “count-up” than a countdown, ending at forty-nine, not zero.

For Jews, devotion to digits dates back to the very beginning. The Torah counts six days of creation that lead up to the seventh day, Shabbat. The Torah did not have to lay out the creation story as a numbered day-by-day ac“count” so there must be some design for every decimal. Otherwise, Shabbat would simply be the day after creation and the Ten Commandments would simply be the Commandments. Numbers matter so much in Judaism that the fourth book of Torah, Bamidbar (which literally means “in the desert”), is translated in English as the “Book of Numbers” because of all of the counting and census-taking that transpires therein.

Counting and numbers are prevalent throughout the Torah, often with repeated figures like the number forty (40). For example, (i) during the story of Noah, the flood ended after 40 days and nights, (ii) after 40 days on Mount Sinai, Moses brought down the Ten Commandments and (iii) after the Exodus, the Jews wandered the desert for 40 years before entering The Promised Land. Thus, arriving at the number 40 is often a wonderful thing, unless (i) it’s your 40th birthday, (ii) you are single and (iii) your parents have convinced you that being unmarried at age 40 is a tragedy. For the record, there is absolutely nothing wrong with being unmarried at age 40 and if you can convince your overly-judgmental parents of this fact without violating the Fifth Commandment, then you deserve the Nobel Peace Prize.

Counting also is important in other aspects of Jewish life. For instance, on Chanukah we must count candles for eight (8) straight nights. Counting on Chanukah also helps when you are dominating dreidel games and collecting gelt from the other gamblers. But if you choose to accept payment in the form of sufganiyot and latkes, that is not totally crazy.

On Sukkot, we must count the walls when building a sukkah because technically a sukkah can be kosher if it has at least three (3) walls. Of course, building a sukkah with only three walls makes as much sense as building a sukkah directly over a golf course sprinkler.

On Pesach, we must count the minutes when making matzah because before the 18-minute mark it is still matzah, but after the 18-minute mark it becomes chametz. This transformative time-limit is like the clock striking twelve in the Cinderella story. In other words, at the 18-minute mark, matzah turns into a pumpkin.

On Simchat Torah, we must count the number of attendees at each Torah-reading to ensure there is a minyan at each session. Some easily-insulted congregants also count the number of attendees who receive an aliya before they do. These easily-insulted congregants then count to ten before blasting the unsuspecting gabbai who, in turn, counts the minutes until his thankless job is over.

For the birth of a male, we must count eight (8) days so that we can arrange a bris. Some parents also count the number of positive and negative reviews that the mohel has received online. As a rule of thumb, if the prospective mohel has been the subject of any bris-related litigation, then you probably should find another mohel. In other words, hiring a malpracticing mohel is almost as foolish as (i) selling kosher oxygen, (ii) running a “post-Pesach” Pesach program, (iii) using a silent grager that only dogs can hear, (iv) dressing up as yourself for a Purim costume contest or (v) serving dairy cholent.

At a Jewish wedding, we must count as the kallah circles the chatan under the chuppah seven times. Some yentas also count the number of invitees to estimate the total cost of the wedding. Other yentas count the number of painfully awkward moments between mismatched and ill-fitted machatunim.

Final thought: Do you know what they say when you try to get the right answer from a defective abacus? Don’t count on it.

All questions, comments and insults are welcome at [email protected].

By Jon Kranz

 

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