(Round Two MAPLE XIV) Up or down?

One! Two! Three! Four! Five! Six! Seven! Eight! Nine! Ten!  BLAST OFF!!!

No, wait.

It brings up an interesting point: counting up versus counting down.  Both have their uses in various situations.  I notice that in most cases, when the amount of time is fixed, such as the time in a sporting event, preparing for blastoff, or the orange hands on crosswalks, time is counted toward zero.  But, there are some cases when time is counted AWAY from zero, even when there is a specific amount of time prescribed.

One counting “up” that I have done for the last 49 days has been counting of the עמר (omer).  It is the seven weeks between Passover and שבועות which ends at sundown today with the beginning of the festival.  I have heard several explanations for why there is a count-up rather than a count-down.  The commandment hails from Exodus, where seven complete weeks of bringing the עמר (barley) offering was prescribed.

So why count up to 50 days rather than down from 50 days?  There are a few explanations that I have heard, and I have some comments on them.

One of these explanations: counting down shows more emphasis on the upcoming event rather than the procedure of getting to the event.  The idea of counting up is that each number that you count off relates to another step of the journey.  The period of the עמר is seen as a time of self-reflection and improvement.  In ancient times, this was the journey between the exodus from Egypt and the revelation at Mount Sinai, so therefore the counting up in modern times should be seen as a way to emphasize the journey of life between the two holidays.

Tying in with this, I went to a learning session a few weeks ago, and the Rabbi there described how the counting is much like a purification of the soul.  Inside every person is a pure soul, and the days of the עמר are a time to scrape off impurities that cover the soul.  In some sense, it is much like the Days of Awe, as this Rabbi also mentioned a connection between the עמר and סוכות (Sukkot).  In particular, the original name of שבועות was עצרת (Atzeret), akin to the post-סוכות holiday שמיני עצרת (Sh’mini Atzeret).  In some sense, the עמר could be interpreted as חול המועד (Chol Hamo’ed: intermediate days of a Festival) between Passover and שבועות.  This makes it prime for counting up.

In a non-religious example, when I went to the University of Kansas in 2001 for the Duke TIP summer program, I posted the “day number,” counting up, in each journal entry.  Even though I knew that I would be there for 22 days, I counted up rather than down.  Though I never would have done any sort of analysis of why I did that then, it is interesting how it implies that I was excited for the journey based on this analysis!

There are other places where counting up is used instead of counting down with a specific amount of time.  In professional soccer, for example, time is kept using a continuously running count-up clock.  This is unlike college, which uses a count-down clock that stops on rare occasions.  This leads to the strange phenomenon of stoppage time, which is present in no other sport.  I find it somewhat interesting, but can’t really put a finger on why it is used.  (Also, I don’t have enough time to research it right now. 🙂 )

Granted, I think that a lot of stopwatches use count-up rather than count-down, and that includes my watch’s timer feature.  When I played water basketball, I used my stopwatch feature on my watch for timing, but it only counts up, so I had to watch it carefully as I got close to 8:00 elapsed, with the game having four eight-minute quarters!

Whether time is counted up or counted down, though, the choice, when there is a reasonable choice, provides an interesting question.  Why?


POST-SCRIPT prior to BACK MATTER: On Friday, my post linked to a post on Lorelle on WordPress.  She commented on my post, and wrote an article about my ideas behind categories, linked here.  I found it very helpful to read her ideas about my ideas on categories and how to improve them for the reader, not for me.  Transparency is an important thing–sometimes I feel that I am too clever and lose the transparency in this way.  Thank you, Lorelle!

Of course, some of the categories that I had chosen were in flux at the time of that posting.  Right now, my blog is much like my apartment–chaotic!  All of the items are there, but are illogically organized.  Sometimes, I feel that to clean up, you have to remove EVERYTHING from an area, and then reconsider how to use the space efficiently.  This is what I am doing right now as an ongoing project: reorganizing tags, categories, and such.  Therefore, it may be a few weeks before I am caught up on fully indexing and table-of-contentsing (yes, I know that’s not a word 🙂 ) my blog.



Today is the fourteenth day of M.A.P.L.E.  That makes two weeks.

היום תשעה וארבעים יום. שהם שבעה שבועות לעמר–על-כן חג שבועות שמח!


2 thoughts on “(Round Two MAPLE XIV) Up or down?

  1. Always glad to help. I love the word “contentsing.” I may steal that! LOL! Brilliant word.

    Your countdown article made me think of “times” that represent a form of countdown. One of my most memorable time countdown moments was in Israel. There are two holidays that rip me up every time. Holocaust Day and Independence Day. Both are started and ended with a siren that lasts two minutes. Everyone and everything in the country comes to a complete stop during those two minutes. Cars stop on the highway. People stop walking. People stand still no matter where they are. Trains, buses, everything comes to a complete stop throughout the entire country and silence falls dramatically (Israel is a noisy place).
    The first time I experienced it, it hit me with a wave of discomfort. I didn’t know how long it would last and it felt like it lasted forever. I looked around at all the people stopped, standing next to their cars on main roads, and was very uncomfortable with the silence. I understood the significance, but I didn’t understand. I think I didn’t want to understand. Two minutes was a countdown representative of an eternity in that moment.
    The second time, I had a better perspective on the reasons for the moment. I looked around and noticed people standing still, tears quietly flowing down their faces. Grim faces. Some people holding hands or each other. A young child grasp in arms squirming until the adult snuggled down into the child’s neck and both became still.
    Years of history flowed into those two minutes. History representative of horror and destruction. Of loss. Of death. Of live. Of birth. Of renewal. Of faith. Of courage. As George Carlin so eloquently described it, “I say life began about a billion years ago and it’s a continuous process. Continuous, just keeps rolling along.”
    In those two sets of two minutes, I felt a part of something, connected to the past and the future. It’s a countdown that goes in both directions. How long since when and how long until when – the when is a big question and it will happen whether or not we ask the question.
    Thanks for making me remember the value of a countdown and time.


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