We are accustomed to thinking of time as a fixed yardstick against which our lives are measured.

We "pass through" time (or it passes us by) in an unalterable pace. Time deeply affects everything about us and everything we do, but we have no effect upon it. Physical science has since refuted this cursory perception of time, demonstrating how time, as any other physical phenomenon, is in fact quite malleable.

It can be concentrated, spread thin, speeded up, slowed down, or stopped altogether. This, of course, is achieved mostly on paper or by computer simulation. In practice, unless we consider the minute time-slowing experienced by space travelers, time's dictatorial rule of our lives seems absolute.

The irrevocability of the past, the uncompromising temporality of the present, the impregnable fog of the future - man still seems very much a creature subject to time, rather than the other way around.

Torah, however, insists that man can master time, transcend it, and redefine it. One example of man's triumph over time is teshuvah (return), the power to reach back in time and re-create the nature of one's past deeds.

And time itself, according to Torah, is a resource to be forged and developed by man, as man is charged to forge and develop all resources of G‑d's creation. Time can be sanctified - made more porous and absorbent of the all-pervading reality of its Creator - as it is when it is utilized toward good and G‑dly ends.

Time can be colored with joy, freedom, love, awe, wisdom and a host of other spiritual characteristics - as we do when we set the calendar and thereby determine the dates of the festivals. And time can be accumulated.

From Passover to Shavuot, we conduct a daily count of the days - a re-enactment of the forty-nine day process of self-refinement that lead from the Exodus on the first day of Passover to the revelation at Sinai on Shavuot.

"Today is one day of the Omer," we pronounce on the second evening of Passover; "Today are two days...," we say on the following evening, "Today are three days..." on the next, and soon. Seven weeks later, we conclude the count and climb to Sinai with the statement, "Today are forty-nine days, which are seven weeks of the Omer."

Two puzzling things come to mind concerning the manner of the count. If we are counting the days to Sinai, why don't we state how many remain until Shavuot, instead of the number that have passed since Passover? Also, "Today are two days" seems awkward if not inaccurate; would it not be more correct to say, "Today is the second day," "Today is the third day," etc.?

But we do not merely pass through the days between Passover and Shavuot - we accumulate them. Each of these forty-nine days embodies another spiritual achievement - the refinement of another aspect of our personality and character.

Each of these days becomes a component of our reborn selves, as we internalize the freedom obtained at the Exodus as the essence of our commitment to G‑d as His chosen people. On the second day of the count, we possess two days of the Omer process; by its final day, we shall have amassed forty-nine units of time, and the specific qualities they embody, with which to approach this year's re experience of Sinai.