Counting the Omer: The time of your life

During this period of the year, we have a way of measuring each day. In Jewish tradition, it is called Sefirat Ha’omer, the Counting of the Omer.

By DAVID GEFFEN
April 25, 2019 21:59
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Omer counter. (photo credit: Wikimedia Commons)

 
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During this period of the year, we have a way of measuring each day. In Jewish tradition, it is called Sefirat Ha’omer, the Counting of the Omer.

Beginning with the second night of Passover, we want to remember each day a little bit more, so we give it an additional number. The first number is the first day of the Omer calendar; the second number the second day, and so on. Not all of us have a chance to count the Omer from day to day, but be assured there are many of our fellow sisters and brothers who are doing it for themselves and for us.

The story is told about a waitress whose husband was killed in an automobile accident. She had two young sons, and wondered how she would stand up to the challenge of raising her sons and providing their wherewithal. One night as she tossed sleeplessly, she understood what she had to do. “I realized that I didn’t have to solve all my problems at once. All I had to do was get through one day at a time. And for one day I could be strong enough, smart enough and tough enough. I learned how to make each day count.”

This waitress clearly saw that every “one” was important.

IN THE Omer count, we have to recall what the number of the day is. How do we recall what that number is? It is not always easy. So through the centuries, artisans created different types of Omer boxes, with a turning text identifying where we are in the count. We have to recognize that it must be turned when one day ends, since tomorrow is another day.

To help us understand the Omer count, one rabbi put it this way. “Never assume that you cannot truly mark each day. Remind yourself what a day can contain and then move on to the next one. Be ready to fill it with new meaning.”

These older Omer boxes can be seen in museums; many are truly antiques, several hundred years old. Regularly, artists create new ones, which you can purchase for yourself. In your home, it can add to the task of your clock, which just measures the day in time. The Omer box makes you think how to challenge yourself when a new cycle of 24 hours is yours.

Here in Israel, many of the large supermarket chains print both Haggadot and Omer calendars. Many of the store Haggadot have become collectors’ treasures. For Haggadot of that type, another Passover has to arrive so they can be discussed.

The supermarket Omer calendars, which I have seen, are quite large, and they include products for purchase on pages opposite the number of the day of the Omer count.

In the spring of 2018, I volunteered to make a minyan in a synagogue in Jerusalem’s Nahlaot neighborhood. On the table in front of where I was sitting, I saw the black back of a large magnet on a table. When I turned it over, I was pleased to find a new type of Omer counter. A yeshiva that promotes the studying of two halachot (Jewish laws) daily had printed on the magnet, “This [counter] connects you to the Omer by rubbing off what covers the day and the Hebrew date.”

This manner of magnet is familiar to those of you who buy raffle tickets. On them as well, you know it is possible to rub on the space where a number is hidden away. When you rub sufficiently, there it is – a new number.

On this magnet the yeshiva printed that not only will it help you master your two halachot a day, there are monthly drawings for NIS 50,000. To register for these prizes, you have to sign up at a separate Internet number.

Why a counter on a magnet (this one happened to be from 2017)? Most people in the world today have magnets on their refrigerator. With a mere glance at your “icebox” door, you can see your family, you can see wonderful events – bar or bat mitzvahs, weddings, graduations and on and on. You also put up advertisements with magnet backings on the door that opens to your culinary delights.


THIS OMER magnet counter adds another dimension. In life, we are always anxious to rub out a mystery covering and find a new “treat.” This can remind us that as much as we need something to live with, we need even more something to live for. Rub out and discover a new number; rub out and find a new cause to live for. We all know people whose passion is to find a new cause and work diligently for it. Then, once one has done as much as one can, one finds a new “cause” which needs one’s help as well.

An example here in Israel is Leket, and I feel certain in America, too, there are organizations that collect unused food to give to the poor, whose numbers continue to grow.

A gentleman made aliyah from America a number of years ago. He had plenty of food for himself and his family. However, the “famine,” which the needy faced, burned in his soul. He decided to act.

What were the largest sources of free food daily? This was found easily: what was left over from restaurants, what was left over from bar/bat mitzvah celebrations; what was left over after weddings; what was left over in hotels. At the end of the evening, this food was simply thrown away because it could not be used the next day.

This “enterprising for the good” individual made a list of the main locales in Jerusalem where food was tossed away, certainly not saved. He visited the manager of the kitchen and asked, “Can I have the cooked, prepared food that you can no longer use?” At first, many of the sites he visited thought he was just a “moocher.” The ones that agreed to participate made this food available at a certain time. Dedicated drivers came by at a certain hour and picked up what others could eat and thereby be satiated.

A large building was rented; large refrigerators were purchased with donations; tables were acquired; plates and cutlery of all types were solicited. Then a notice went out in the neighborhoods where people were “hungry” on many occasions. “Come to our center each night or in the morning [food had been refrigerated]. There will be something to eat to fill your empty stomachs.” It worked; Leket has assisted thousands in many of the cities of Israel.

As we count the days of the Omer, something unique can happen. Please emphasize to yourselves that the best portions of your life are, as a poet has told us, “your little unremembered acts of kindness and love.”

In front of a large department store in Jerusalem, a man sat daily in his wheelchair and greeted people as they walked by. Some helped him, but few ever talked to him. One day I decided that I would try to find out why he was wheelchair bound. We talked briefly, and from then on, whenever I saw him, I said hello.

Who would have known that, one day, he would help me? Once when I was in a hurry, I waved to him. He waved to me. When I reached my next appointment, I realized that I had lost the bag I carried in which were all my documents, credit cards, money, pictures and other essential items. Immediately, I retraced my steps. When I returned to the spot where my friend was wheelchair bound, he waved me over and gave me my bag, which somehow he had picked up and knew it was mine. This is a true story. He had shown me kindness of a major nature. In addition to giving him money, I realized that I was lucky to have befriended him.

Counting along toward the completion of the Omer, we are given three final days, which traditionally are pointed out as the last three days of preparation before the Torah is received. The culmination of all the days and weeks we have marked is the holiday of Shavuot (this year Saturday night, June 8, and June 9). Shavuot is the holiday of the Giving of the Torah.

One way we can personally receive the Torah is by bending down to help lift someone up. In the laws promulgated by the Torah, there is great emphasis on helping others. As we accept the Torah, let its words motivate us to seek out those who are in need and aid them, as Maimonides suggests, so they can lift themselves up.

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