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From Diapers to Destiny

Toilet training is a significant milestone in a child’s development, marking a step towards independence and self-sufficiency. Recently, we’ve been working on this with our three-year-old, and thank God, it’s been going fabulously well. For the third night in a row, she woke up completely dry. 

As I looked at her with pride, I said, “Wow! You are getting so big!” 

To which she, with a completely serious face, responded, “So, I can drive now?”

While her statement made me laugh out loud (especially considering her current driving skills – if you haven’t seen that video I posed of her running right into a bush headfirst, watch it here, it’s hysterical) it also offered a profound lesson about milestones and the nature of progress.

When we reach a milestone, it’s easy to become complacent, basking in the glory of our achievement. The hard work leading up to it is still fresh in our minds, and the satisfaction of having accomplished something significant can sometimes make it hard to keep moving forward. We might feel like we have earned a respite or that our current level is good enough. However, true growth requires us to continually strive for more, never settling for the status quo.

At the same time, its important to appreciate and recognize milestones and be proud of our accomplishments.

The period of time we find ourselves in, known as Sefirat HaOmer, reinforces this lesson. We count the days from Passover, a time of physical freedom, to Shavuot, which represents spiritual freedom achieved through receiving the Torah.

Interestingly, this period of time is called the ‘Counting of the Omer’, named after an offering brought on Passover. Shouldn’t it be called ‘Counting Towards Receiving the Torah?’ It doesn’t even mention the point of the count and instead mentions something that seems completely irrelevant.

The Omer offering was made of barley—considered animal fodder in biblical times. By the end of the process, we bring an offering made of wheat, symbolizing the growth from a state of base existence like an animal to one of higher spiritual readiness, like a human being.

That’s not to say that we are animals. Jewish wisdom is emphasizing the power of change. Compared to where we are going, to how much we can change, right now we are like animals. Meaning I am so far removed from the possible me and this is a time I can actualize my potential to become great. That is why we emphasize the Omer, the barley, the animal food.

It’s a nice idea but shouldn’t we still call this process by the goal, the receiving of the Torah? 

What’s even stranger is that we seem to count backwards. We begin counting with day one on Passover and count forward day after day until we count day forty nine.

Picture, if you will, Times Square on New Year’s Eve. Imagine instead of the countdown going the normal way—ten, nine, eight, seven, six, five, four, three, two, one—we counted up to ten.

Eight, nine, ten. Happy New Year! 

It would feel funny, anti-climactic. 

The same with a rocket blasting off into the atmosphere. If we counted up instead of down, it would seem so strange. We are so used to the idea of a countdown. What’s going on with this countup? (Its interesting that as I’m typing this, the word countdown is a word while countup is showing as misspelled. It’s not a word because its not a thing we do)

When we count down to something—whether it’s a vacation, a trip, a promotion, or a wedding—we are eager to reach the end, often overlooking the journey itself. In contrast, counting up encourages us to appreciate each day’s progress, focusing on the process rather than just the outcome.

This is what’s happening during the Counting of the Omer. Each day, we build upon the previous one, much like constructing a building floor by floor. By the end of the Omer, we should have grown significantly, preparing ourselves to receive the Torah with a deeper understanding and greater readiness.

This parallels the forty nine day wait the Jewish People experienced in ancient times. If the whole point of leaving Egypt was to receive the Torah at Sinai, why didn’t God just give them the Torah immediately after leaving Egypt?

It’s not that God wasn’t ready to give the Torah. It’s that they were not ready to receive it immediately. They had to work on themselves, becoming better and better, building spiritual levels day by day until they were finally ready. 

This is why we count up during the Omer—to recognize and celebrate each step of our personal growth and development.

Each day during this period, we count the Omer and say, “Today is one day of the Omer,” “Today is two days of the Omer,” and so on. We focus on how much we’ve accomplished.

 The counting is not merely about counting the days but more importantly a daily reminder to make each day count. Each day in this period symbolizes a step in our spiritual journey, encouraging us not to stop but to keep ascending.

In life, both mundane tasks like toilet training and profound spiritual practices teach us the same lesson: milestones are not endpoints but stepping stones. The real journey begins after the initial success. But growth and improvement are ongoing processes.

Consider the journey from Passover to Shavuot. The physical liberation from Egypt was not the culmination but the beginning of a greater spiritual journey. Each day of Sefirat HaOmer is an opportunity to reflect, grow, and prepare for the spiritual revelation at Mount Sinai. Similarly, every milestone in life should propel us to strive for the next level of achievement.

Observing mitzvot is not a static practice but a dynamic, evolving journey, immersing ourselves deeply in our spiritual practices, constantly seeking to elevate our understanding and observance. It’s about never becoming complacent but always pushing the boundaries of our spiritual potential.

Each milestone, whether in our personal lives or spiritual practices, should inspire us to keep moving forward, never settling but always striving for more. By doing so, we make each day count, transforming our achievements into ongoing steps towards greater heights.

About the Author
Rabbi Menachem Lehrfield lives in Denver, Colorado with his wife, Sarah, and their five energetic children. He serves as the Director of the Jewish Outreach Initiative (JOI), a transformative program reshaping the Jewish landscape in Denver. JOI is dedicated to providing authentic Jewish experiences and learning opportunities for individuals from diverse backgrounds in a meaningful and engaging way. Additionally, Rabbi Lehrfield is the Co-director of SITE (the School of Integrative Torah Education), a Hebrew school alternative where Judaism is brought to life in a fun, camp-like atmosphere. He hosts the "Zero Percent” and "Dear Rabbi”podcasts and cohosts the "reConnect" podcast, further broadening his influence and connection with a global audience. Known for his warmth and genuine love for every Jew, Rabbi Lehrfield's approachable demeanor enables him to connect with people across all age groups and backgrounds. As a dynamic and engaging educator, he employs analogies and humor to make complex, profound ideas accessible and relatable to all, from novices to experts. Rabbi Lehrfield earned his M.Ed from Loyola University in Chicago and received two rabbinic ordinations; one from Yeshivas Beis Yisroel in Jerusalem, and another from Rabbi Zalman Nechemia Goldberg, the Chief Justice of the Jerusalem High Court. Beyond his professional pursuits, Rabbi Lehrfield is passionate about photography, baking, rock climbing, and snowboarding. These diverse interests allow him to engage with a broad spectrum of individuals and communities, furthering his mission to make Judaism relevant and meaningful for all Jews. You can follow Rabbi Lehrfield's activities and insights at @JOIdenver on Instagram and Facebook.
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