Our four-year-old is in a counting phase. She loves to count things around the house, days in the week, gems in a jar, pretty much anything that captures her attention and imagination. As we get older, the objects may change—but the counting doesn’t. We count the years, the zeros on the ledger, the payments left, the friends and followers. Counting is a way to ascribe value and meaning to things, money, and time.
We are in the midst of the Omer. “Omer” literally means measure and refers to sheaves of a harvested crop, but it’s also the name for the seven-week period between Pesach and Shavuot during which we are commanded to count each day and each week. In traditional communities, it is a time of mourning when festive events like weddings are avoided and many refrain from haircuts. For most of us, the Omer isn’t a time of mourning, but we have mourned the loss of so many things this past year—namely, the safety and the freedom to live life in the ways we used to.
Counting the Omer links Pesach to Shavout—redemption to revelation. Counting pulls us out of the narrowness and isolation of Egypt and into the expanse and freedom of Sinai. So too, as case numbers fall and vaccination rates rise, we are cautiously moving from the narrowness of quarantine to the expanse and freedom of life.
In a few moments, many of us will make kiddush with our families, marking the next twenty-five hours of Shabbat as sacred, separate, holy time. It is the essence of Judaism – the sanctification of time. As Heschel put it, “Time is the presence of God in the world of space, and it is within time that we are able to sense the unity of all being.”
Strange as it may seem, it’s the unintended gift that this pandemic has brought to so many of us, the gift of time—time to slow down, time to think, time to walk, time to hunker down with those we love.
Which brings us back to the Omer. We count each day to make it count—so that the days don’t simply slip away.
What could be more Jewish?
בָּרוּךְ אַתָּה יְיָ אֱלֹהֵֽינוּ מֶֽלֶךְ הָעוֹלָם אֲשֶׁר קִדְּשָֽׁנוּ בְּמִצְוֺתָיו וְצִוָּֽנוּ עַל סְפִירַת הָעֹֽמֶר׃
Baruch atah Adonai Eloheinu melech ha-olam asher kid'shanu b'mitzvotav vitzivanu al s'firat ha-omer.
Our praise to You, Adonai, Sovereign of all, who hallows us with mitzvot, commanding us to count of the Omer.
הַיּוֹם עֶשְׂרִים יוֹם, שֶׁהֵם שְׁנֵי שָׁבוּעוֹת וְשִׁשָּׁה יָמִים לָעֹמֶר׃
Hayom esrim yom shehem sh’nei shavuot v’shishah yamim la-omer.
Today is twenty days, which is two weeks, and six days of the Omer.