The Way We Count Our Days

This mailing is dedicated to my old and dear friend, Jack Braunstein.


Dear Friends,


Each day of the week, we remember Shabbos. This tradition is expressed in the names that we use for the days of the week. For example, the official Hebrew name for the first day of the week is "Yom Rishon B'Shabbos - the First Day of Shabbos, and the name for the second day of the week is "Yom Sheni B’Shabbos" - the Second Day of Shabbos. (In speech, we usually use an abbreviated version of these names, such as, the First Day, the Second Day, the Third Day, etc.) A source for this tradition can be found in the following midrashic commentary on the verse, "Remember the Shabbos Day to sanctify it" (Exodus 20:8):


"Rabbi Isaac says: 'You should not count the days as others count them. Rather you should count them with reference to the Shabbos.' " (Mechilta)


According to one explanation, the Hebrew names for the days of the week are expressing our yearning for the coming Shabbos. For example, when we say, "Today is the first day of Shabbos," we mean that today is the first day of the week of the approaching Shabbos. Another explanation is found in the biblical commentary of Ramban, where he explains that the Hebrew names for the days of the week are referring to the previous Shabbos. He writes:


"Other nations count the days of the week in such a manner that each is independent of the other. Thus they call each day by a separate name [Sunday, Monday, etc.], but Israel counts all days with reference to Shabbos: the first day after Shabbos, the second day after Shabbos, etc." (Commentary to Exodus 20:8)


According to this explanation, we remember each weekday our uplifting encounter with the previous Shabbos. Rabbi Samson Raphael Hirsch follows the interpretation of the Ramban, and he writes:


"You must count the days of the week according to their distance from the Shabbos that has passed, so that Shabbos will ever be present to you as the medium and basis for your being holy, and the days of the week will then become the offspring of the Shabbos." (Horeb, page 109)


According to the first explanation of the names of the week, we are counting the days in reference to the coming Shabbos. According to the second explanation, we are counting the days from the previous Shabbos. As one of my teachers indicated, both explanations are true. We look forward to once again welcoming the Shabbos Queen, yet we also remember the light, joy, and shalom that we experienced during our previous encounter with her.


The fact that the Hebrew names of the week are all referring to Shabbos serves as a reminder that the spiritual life of our people centers around Shabbos, for this sacred day also represents the final stage of human history, which is described as, "The day that entirely Shabbos and tranquility for everlasting life" (Mishnah Tamid 7:4). 


The above teachings, as well as the Shabbos teachings we discussed in the previous letters, can help us to understand why the abandonment of Shabbos leads to assimilation among the nations and how an attachment to Shabbos enables us to preserve our identity and our mission. As the Compassionate One proclaimed:


"And the Children of Israel shall keep the Shabbos an eternal covenant for their generations." Exodus 31:16)



 Much Shalom,

Yosef Ben Shlomo Hakohen


Hazon - Our Universal Vision