Last weekend a friend of mine remarked, “Nowadays It seems like it’s always either Friday or Monday.” That line deeply resonated. The days all melt into one another this year. If not for each day’s shir shel yom, we might forget what day it is. Indeed, each year the Oxford Group, publisher of the Oxford English Dictionary, picks a “word of the year.” One of 2020’s words (they found choosing only one word impossible, thanks to the pandemic) was “Blursday,” the word you use when you aren’t even sure what day it actually is today.
This week’s parasha of Emor mentions nearly every important Jewish holiday (skipping the Rabbinic ones like Purim and Chanukah, obviously), and along the way describes the mitzvah we still perform at this time each year: sefirat ha-omer, the commandment to count the fifty days between the offering of the omer, the barley sacrifice brought on the second day of Pesach, and the Sh’tei ha-Lechem, the wheat offering brought on Shavuot.
Twentieth-century sage Rabbi Zalman Sorotzkin, the Lutzker Rav, in his collection of derashot, HaDe’ah ve-HaDibbur, questions this rather odd mitzvah: why are we commanded to count the days? There’s no other period in the Jewish calendar when such a mitzvah exists: not the Ten Days of Repentance during the High Holidays, nor the Nine Days leading up to Tisha b’Av, or any other time. Why a requirement to count days?
This period of time between Pesach and Shavuot, Rabbi Sorotzkin reminds us, was a period of purification for the people of Israel. As they traveled from Egypt to Sinai, the people had to transform themselves as best they could from a nation of slaves to a nation ready to receive the word of God — no mean feat in such a short time. For the people of Israel, each day on the road to Sinai counted; each day was a new opportunity to work toward a brighter, independent, and blessed future.
And we still count in 2021, explains the Lutzker Rav, because this is still true. We count these fifty days, he writes, kedei shlo yehiyeh goralam ke-goral she’ar hayamim, “so their fate won’t be like that of the days [of the rest of the year],” she’al pi rov eyn adam ragil doeg al ibudam, “about which, if they’re lost, most people don’t worry.“ Each day is a precious opportunity. We ought to ask ourselves, Rabbi Sorotzkin writes, how have I used today? And what will I do with the time that remains?
Is a day too short to make any difference in our lives? Rabbi Aaron Soloveitchik once explained that for Jews, no amount of time is too small not to matter: the smallest unit of halachic time is a chelek, literally a “portion,” a unit of time which lasts about three and one third seconds. Yet the mishnah in Avot proudly declaims that we each have a chelek in the world to come. In English, Rabbi Soloveitchik noted, a “minute” is a short length of time, but the adjective “minute” means something insignificantly small. Would we rather see our time, he asked, as a string of minutes, or as a series of chalakim? I know what I’d prefer for me and my family.
So how to defeat the Blursday feeling? Maybe it’s by finding an act or gesture or moment in each day — whether we do so at the start of the day or at its end — that meant something to us and (ideally) to another person. We can encourage our kids to do the same. If we focus in this way on what we’ve done or what we set out to do, then Blursday will become (as will, God willing, this entire past year) a thing of the past.