by Hazzan Barbara Barnett
One my mentors had a favorite expression about counting that he would mention in celebration of birthdays. He liked to say, “spend less time counting the days and more time making each day count.”
Yet here we are counting. Yes, COVID cases—just as we have for the past many months.
But Sunday evening, the second night of Pesach, we began our annual count of 49 days, called Sefirat Ha’Omer, and ending with onset of Shavuot—from redemption from slavery to the gift of Torah. It’s not so much a countdown as a count-up, as we travel further and further from Mitzrayim and closer to Sinai, from slavery (and a slavery mentality) to freedom (with its joys and obligations).
Commanded to us in the Torah (in the Book of Leviticus—Vayikra), the omer count also can be viewed as an invitation beckoning us to embark on a seven-week journey into the human psyche, into the soul.
Jewish mystical practice encourages us to embark on this journey within the framework of human experience. Paralleing Jewish journey from the depths and despair of enslavement in Egypt when emotion is a luxury to Shavuot, when we experience God’s presence at Mount Sinai at the revelation of Torah.
This first week is focused on basic decency—loving kindess, in Hebrew, “Chesed.” I invite you to peek in our Shabbat Siddur Lev Shalem (page 63), to read a nice explanation of all the days and weeks of the omer.
For now, think about this week’s focus on lovingkindness and beautifully it’s expressed in words of Torah, “V’ahavta l’rayacha kamocha” – Love your neighbor as yourself, NSS Beth El’s theme of the year!
I will leave you with this evocative poem about this special season of making each day count:
The Season of Counting
This is the season of counting:
Of counting days and nights,
Of counting the space between slavery of the body
And freedom of the soul.
This is a season of seeing:
Of seeing earth and sky,
Of seeing renewal in the land
And renewal in our hearts.
This is a season of journey:
Of inner journeys and outer journeys
Taking us places that need us,
Places that we need.
This is the season of counting,
The season of joyous anticipation,
Of wondrous waiting, in devotion and awe,
For our most precious gift,
The gift that binds our hearts to each other across the millennia,
The gift that binds our souls to G-d’s Holy Word.
© 2017 CCAR Press from This Grateful Heart: Psalms and Prayers for a New Day