Making Time Count: The Message of Counting the Omer
Counting means forging a conscious, mindful relationship with time and its moments.
We have entered the Counting of the Omer, the 49 days that start from Passover and lead to the giving of the Torah on Shavuot. These are days the Torah instructs us to count every night. What does this counting actually achieve? Is a 'counted' day any different to a regular day? And why is this mitzvah the path that leads us to Mount Sinai?
The counting has a powerful message for us. Time can stride into our present but then vanish into the horizon of history, having gained no significance at all. Empty, 'killed' time. And worse – time can constrict and weigh us down with stress, boredom or despair. Waiting can be nothing more than a frustrating barrier to what we want in life, be it finding a spouse, a job or attaining a life goal. We can get trapped within time.
But it doesn't have to be that way.
The very same time can arrive and be counted by us. Counting means forging a conscious, mindful relationship with time and its moments. It’s saying I am choosing today, in place of living it passively. It enables even a difficult wait to become meaningful, because I receive what the present moment presents me with and I acknowledge its potential for growth. As we count these 49 days, we are building this new relationship to time. That is how we ready our lives for dedication to Torah.
Choose today, in place of living it passively.
This approach is not only for older singles waiting for their soulmate or couples waiting to be blessed with children; it's for everyone. The very medium through which we experience life is time. Time is raw potential gifted to us to use for good things, each day – a vessel waiting to be filled. When seen in this light, those tough times we all go through do not need to invite frustration or despair. They are simply another opportunity. A chance to work on deepening our faith in God, on growing as a person and as a Jew.
Sometimes it may seem outwardly, or in society's eyes, that we are 'in transit'. Just waiting for a date, a child, a degree, a job. But in truth, the journey is never simply a stepping stone to something else; it carries the destination within. Here, and only here, lies our mission of Now. God loves us and He has a plan for us at every stage of our lives, even the painful ones. He led us down to Egypt, not despite but because of the suffering we endured there, so that we could gain what we needed from that experience. Then, at precisely the right time, He led us out to become His Nation and receive the Torah. Both stages were essential parts of our journey towards Mount Sinai.
The Counting of the Omer is a time to recognize that we are not controlled by nature, luck or statistics. We are always on a journey towards. Behind the scenes, God is gently leading each person to exactly those situations that can bring him to his potential. Every moment contains the cosmic journey of a Jew: leaving the limitations represented by Egypt and building towards the Divine connection of Torah. A journey towards the eternal.
So yes: every time in our lives has intrinsic value. In every place growth can be found.
Living with this philosophy is how we accumulate precious, 'full' days that we take with us forever. Just like Abraham, our forefather, who the Torah describes as "arriving with his days" (Genesis, 24:1). We need to also remember that in life it's never 'all or nothing'. Days that passed without being used to the maximum don't limit the new vessel of today, which is always ripe to be filled with good and saved for eternity.
The first mitzvah we received as we became a Godly nation was sanctifying the new month. Its message: Break free! Take charge of your life by taking the reins of time. Bring time into the realm of your awareness instead of letting it just slip by. Use its seconds, minutes, hours and days for spiritual elevation, instead of being enslaved under them. Where does this process start? With a choice to make this moment matter.
As Jews, we all have that ability – especially during the special days of the Omer. We need never be a 'victim' of time. On the contrary, we have the power to harness time for productive purposes and elevate it, filling our days meaningfully. We can strive to find and embrace God's plan for this stage of our lives.
Time, if we choose to make it so, can truly 'count'.