Counting as Mindfulness
One of the highlights of Kohen Gadol’s Yom Kippur service was sprinkling the blood in the Holy of Holies. No one was there to witness this ritual, nevertheless, the Mishna and Gemara provide us with a rich description. As the Kohen Gadol sprinkled the blood, once upwards and seven times downwards, he kept a running verbal count. While sprinkling the downward strokes, he also made mention of the upward one he had already done. Why was this necessary? Rashi on Daf 55a explains that mentioning the upward stroke also gave the Kohen Gadol time to pause, reflect, and perform each stroke correctly.
The focus on counting in Yoma reminded me of the practice of counting the Omer. During the 49 days leading up to Shavuot, every single day is counted as its own entity. The days are also numbered in terms of how many weeks have passed since the Omer offering was first brought. Why are two numbering systems necessary? Perhaps there is a similar message to be learned from counting the Omer as in counting the sprinklings.
The days of counting the Omer offer an opportunity to prepare our soul to receive the Torah anew. Counting each day, we express our growing love of HaShem which draws us closer to Matan Torah. Time is a valuable asset and can vanish very quickly. Counting each day is a mindful practice which focuses our consciousness on the present without allowing it to slip by. Grouping the days into weeks provides a context – counting towards a destination. The journey towards the destination is hard, but the rewards are meaningful. When we complete the count we reach the pinnacle of closeness to HaShem.
In the same way that counting the Omer directs our thoughts towards a goal, instructing the Kohen Gadol to count in a way that prevents miscalculation leads towards Kaparah. On Yom Kippur, Chazal emphasize that the actions of the Kohen Gadol are not a magic formula to achieve our atonement, rather the intention behind the actions bring Kaparah. Keeping a count does more than just technically ensure the correct amount of strokes, it focuses the Kohen Gadol’s attention on his actions. With each sprinkle of blood, I can imagine the Kohen Gadol saying to himself “I am only seemingly in control of the process here. This blood brings atonement by HaShem’s Will alone.”
Counting is a way of grounding us in the present as well as leading us to a larger goal. The Kohen Gadol is counting towards Kaparah. As he counts each stroke aloud, he is given the space and time to reflect on the meaning of his actions. Completing all the strokes correctly brings Kaparah. In the much longer process of counting the Omer, we count each day to keep track of where we are in the process, moving towards Matan Torah. In our modern world, in the absence of tangible rites, we must rely on the mindfulness evoked by the rituals of words to work towards closeness to HaShem.
of 4, resides in Israel and is a very proud co-founder of Hadran.