Parshas Emor (5774)
Traditionally, the 49-day period between Passover and the upcoming holiday of Shavuos (The Festival of Weeks) is called the Sefirah (‘counting’) period. This is because on each of the 49 nights we perform the mitzvah of Sefiras Ha’Omer (lit. the ‘counting of the Omer’), the counting of the days from Passover until Shavuos.
[In the days when there was a Holy Temple in Jerusalem, the Jewish people would bring a barley offering on the second day of Passover (see Leviticus 23:10). This was called the Omer. The Omer is the name of a dry measure, containing the volume of 43.2 average eggs. It is the amount of barley flour that must be brought, and is also the name by which the offering is known.]
As we read in this week’s Torah portion, Parshas Emor (see Leviticus 23:15-16) the Jewish people are commanded to "count the Omer" – i.e. to count from the second day of Passover, the day upon which the Omer offering was brought in the Temple, forty-nine days leading up to the holiday of Shavuos. In so doing, we emulate our ancestors who upon leaving Egypt, actually counted the days towards the time that they would receive the Torah at Mount Sinai.
So that on the first night of Sefirah, we say, “Today is one day of the Omer”, and on the second night of Sefirah we say, “Today is two days of the Omer’. …and so on. [This Friday night we will be counting the 18th day of the Omer.]
The obvious question is why we Jews always have to do things backwards. Most normal people who are excited about an upcoming event or milestone count down to it, you know, like on New Year’s Eve … 10, 9, 8, 7, 6, 5, 4, 3, 2, 1, Happy New Year!!!
Yet we Jews have to count up towards the receiving of the Torah! …Today is one day of the Omer; Today is two days of the Omer etc. Why can’t we count down just like everybody else??
You might have read the following humorous essay about aging (sometimes attributed to the late George Carlin):
"Do you realize that the only time in our lives when we like to get old is when we're kids? If you're less than 10 years old, you're so excited about aging that you think in fractions. "How old are you?" "I'm four and a half!" You're never thirty-six and a half. You're four and a half, going on five! That's the key. You get into your teens, now they can't hold you back. You jump to the next number, or even a few ahead. "How old are you?" "I'm gonna be 16!" You could be 13, but hey, you're gonna be 16! And then the greatest day of your life! You become 21. Even the words sound like a ceremony. YOU BECOME 21. YESSSS!!! But then you turn 30. Oooohh... what happened there? Makes you sound like bad milk! He TURNED; we had to throw him out. There's no fun now, you're just a sour-dumpling. What's wrong? What's changed? You BECOME 21, you TURN 30, then you're PUSHING 40. Whoa! Put on the brakes, it's all slipping away. Before you know it, you REACH 50 and your dreams are gone. But wait! You MAKE it to 60. You didn't think you would! So you BECOME 21, TURN 30, PUSH 40, REACH 50 and MAKE IT to 60. You've built up so much speed that you HIT 70! After that it's a day-by-day thing; you HIT Wednesday! You get into your 80s and every day is a complete cycle; you HIT lunch; you TURN 4:30; you REACH bedtime. And it doesn't end there. Into the 90s, you start going backwards; "I Was JUST 92." Then a strange thing happens. If you make it over 100, you become a little kid again. "I'm 100 and a half!" May you all make it to a healthy 100 and a half!!
The problem is that it’s not so funny. How many of us actually live in the moment?
My wife always says that we “wish our lives away”. When we are in school we wish it would be over sooner so that we can go to camp. When we get engaged, we wish the days would go by fast so that we can get married. When we’re pregnant, we wish away the days between us and the beautiful baby we want to hold in our arms etc. etc. So many days and moments in our lives are lost because we wish they weren’t there.
All too often we are preoccupied with the past and/or worrying about the future that we fail to be present in the present, letting life and all its beauty just pass us by.
And it’s not just the beauty of the moment that we miss forever when we don’t live in the now. Judaism teaches that each and every moment of our lives is an opportunity for growth, and we need to use all those moments to develop ourselves and achieve our potential – so we should never wish any moment of our lives away.
This is why the Torah commands us during the Sefiras Ha’Omer period to count up towards the receiving of the Torah and not down like everyone else does.
Counting down means wishing that time away... i.e. thankfully I have one less day standing between me and the anticipated event – I can now X out that day on the calendar and be rid of it forever.
Counting up has just the opposite effect. It means that after the first day of the count from Passover to Shavuos I have gained for myself one day of beauty and growth and opportunity, and after the second day I have gained two days, etc. etc. Not one day of the count is lost, even as we look forward to the end of the count when we receive the Torah on Shavuos.
This is the powerful life lesson of Sefiras Ha’Omer. Each day and each moment of our lives is happening now and must never be squandered in our eagerness to reach the next big milestone in our lives.
As the comedian/guru Steve Behrman (better known as “Swami Beyondananda”) once said: “I predict that living in the Now will be the wave of the future, and time itself will be a thing of the past.”