“The days of the omer are not about counting time, but weighing an omer’s worth about what counts.”
Rabbi Dan Judson
We are counting the days — or trying to make them count — especially now in the near two months of sheltering at home, time interrupted, days without form, one melding into the other, weeks passing one to the next.
Quarantine fatigue, it’s called, the dislocation and disruption that threatens to overcome us, and, yet, now as the country cautiously embarks on a slow return to normalcy, an unsettling uncertainty compounds it, how to calculate the risk of re-entry, how to assure our safety and others’?
As we are making our way through this no man’s land of COVID we read in the Torah of our forebears trudging through another wilderness. For the past almost seven weeks we follow in their footsteps, counting the omer, a ritual of marking the days between Pesach and Shavuot as the Israelites journey toward Sinai. The omer is a precise measure of ground and sifted barley offered as a sacrifice in the ancient Temple to commence the counting.
We read of the census, counting numbers, as the tribes ready to depart, reminding us of the value of each one of us and our collective power.
We read of the daily portion, or omer, of manna, divinely given to sustain the Israelites as they trek for 49 days through the desert. Each allotted only as much as he or she needs, no more, no less. It reminds of our obligation to only buy or use or take what we need. That scarcity can exist amidst plenty. That everything in this world is given, that nothing truly belongs to us.
So it is that Sefirat Ha Omer, the counting of the omer, is as much about counting as about measuring, counting out the days but measuring their worth.
The ritual is as much about the arduous trek towards Sinai and the giving of the Torah as the inner journey toward self improvement to be worthy of its receiving. The Kabbalists teach that each of the weeks of the omer represents a positive aspect in need of refining, seven opportunities to work on each, one at a time: love, respect, compassion, efficiency, aesthetics, loyalty and leadership.
And it is as much about it means to make the journey together as alone.
The daily counting becomes my time map, the daily nuggets of wisdom from the sages are its guideposts. It is another tool to sustain me, to give my days meaning, to ground me as we all traverse this unknown terrain.
Hope springs from the obligation to count, and be counted, to remake ourselves, and our world, more loving, more compassionate, more efficient, more beautiful, more loyal and more rightly led.
So it is as Shavuot approaches, as we joyously celebrate the giving of the Torah and our people’s acceptance of its precepts, I pray that we meet the challenges of the days ahead with strength and resilience, kindness and compassion, drawing on our best selves to better our world.
So should we measure our days.