It’s Safire, the time of counting. We are counting from the time of our exodus, of our physical redemption, to the time of our aliyah, the time of our spiritual redemption. In the case of the former, we are returned mastery over our bodies. In the case of the latter, we are given mastery over our souls.
Every year, we make this trip. Every year, we have the opportunity to appreciate its wonder. Every year, we can experience this period of counting as a gradual progression to the height, which is Torah, and as a literally step-by-step means to rebuilding ourselves.
Even so, Shavuot, the celebration of our greatest gift, from Hashem, the gift of Torah, is not the only apex to which we mount. Even so, the iconic sheaves of grain, the omer, are not the only significance we count. Mere mortals, both our Tikkun Olam and our reparation of ourselves necessarily have to be completed piecemeal. Both are finite sets of procedures that can not be poofed to conclusion, but must be actualized via histadlut.
It is relatively easy to talk about ending political corruption, to muse over making our media truly free, to espouse principles for flattening the fiduciary tiers of our health care system, to chant about championing the environment, and so forth. In spite of that communicative downrightness, it remains far more difficult to actualize those models. Utopian dreams are dandy for tableside discussion, but, in “real time,” such talk accomplishes little more than strain on our organizations. In short, there’s lots that is wrong with a worldview that rejects objectivity and embraces a prescriptive set of ethics.
For instance, the idealistic upstart who checks colleagues for paperclip pilferage might be refocusing corporate resources at the cost of missing egregious sources of pollution, at the cost of overlooking his or her company’s standing history of gender-based harassment, or at the cost of failing to notice “straightforward” money laundering or identity theft problems.
Likewise, the “do-gooders” who petition against strategic settlements, or who use their public recognition to elsewise undermine Israel’s sovereignty, might mean well, but indubitably act foolishly. It takes sagacity, patience, tenacity, and, above all, faith, including, especially, the willingness to listen to Hashem’s instructions, to partner with The Boss in repairing society. Bandying about one’s ego is less than a poor substitute for obedience and devotion.
Similarly, personal growth is a somewhat nonlinear, always gradual process, which depends, ultimately, on The Almighty’s aid. Even prophecy, at some point, is no more than the collecting and the reassembling of fallen heavenly pieces. So, it makes sense that we count: the days until we can use the mikva, the three weeks of tragedy, the months of Shmittah, and years until an upsheren.
More mundanely, but no less miraculously, and for the same reasons, we count: the months of gestation, the hours a baby sleeps at night, the number of teeth establishing themselves in a toddler’s mouth, and the rate at which preschoolers “get into trouble.” Later in life, we count the days until a child’s chuppah, a grandbaby’s first steps, and the number of visits our generations extend to us.
Whereas many of us purchase, for ourselves or for our loves ones, tallitot, which have tzitzis already tied on, and whereas many of us buy bakery-made challot, it remains our responsibility to count the number and kind of knots in all of those fringes and to send them to geniza if they are beyond repair, and it is continues on as our obligation to make sure we buy our Shabbot and Yom Tov bread from sources that have “taken challah.” Counting is inseparable from Jewish living.
Correspondingly, though we might hire babysitters to occasionally mind our sons and daughters, and though, when they are older, we might employ matchmakers to help them find their beshert, we parents remain accountable for their development. Both our sacred and our secular lives are built from the fixed rhythms of our efforts, as guided and enhanced by G-d, not from any instantaneous magicing of results.
Furthermore, there is a cosmic type of counting in which we engage. Whereas we can not count on the world to love the Jews, we can count on Hashem not to abandon us, His people. Just as we are experiencing an increase in overt anti-Semitism, we are concurrently experiencing an increase in immigration to the Holy Land and in increase in individuals’ service to the Klal.
Sure, some of us persist in claiming that the way in which we build ourselves and the way in which we build our culture is neither subjective nor open for interpretation, i.e. that we, as individuals and as a collective, possess the ability to determine our destinies. Yet we never have, never will, and currently do not live in an alternative, cognitively-driven reality like that of the Matrix. Romantic notions and other misinformation aside, we live beyond such a pretend world, in a reality where we can attain even higher levels of living than we can imagine with our limited minds. Such is the nature of finite beings counting toward the infinite.
Moreso, such is the nature of HaKodesh Baruch Hu’s compassion for us. As Rabbi Lazer Brody writes in “Counting the Omer,” “true freedom, which includes the liberty from social pressure and bodily urges, comes only from Torah. Therefore, even though we break off the chains of bondage at Pesach, we''re not really free until we receive the Torah 50 days later on Shavuot.”
During the confluence of events that we call the seven weeks of counting, specifically, and during the tallies within our lifetimes that each of us merits to go through, more generally, we are elevated to reach for luminous bits, to impact the quality of our individual comings and goings, and, on occasion, to prove ourselves more broadly useful. How can we be anything but grateful for the opportunity to tot up our bits and chunks? How can we do anything save for making happy music, sponsoring children’s processions, participating in parades of the trees’ bikkurim, give over joyful words of Torah, or dedicate all-nighters to Torah learning once we realize the benefit of calculating our individual and communal ascents?
Counting might be tedious. Counting might be boring, but reckoning with the seemingly insignificant portions that build us up is both import and rewarding. During your lifetime, may you be Blessed to find meaning in adding up all of your and your loved ones’ steps!
During this season, between Pesach and Shavuot, may you glory in your responsibility to Count the Omer!