It is very difficult to put one’s finger on the vibe or tone that is meant to be set for the period of Sefirat HaOmer. Just as we try to build the best Sukkot and find the best matzah, I suppose what we do to express excellence in this unclear transition from holiday to holiday is grow the scraggliest beards we can and find the best, Jew-infused, a Capella versions of recently popular songs. How can we possibly give proper significance to a time-span that has little to do with actual events and more to do with the buildup for something else? In fact, the entire essence of the period of Sefirat HaOmer is embedded in the name; the holiday is about counting towards the holiday of Shavuot. If faces the insecurity and dependency of a sibling who is always referred to as “Oh, you’re Bob’s brother.” Could this phase of the Jewish calendar in fact have real embodiment that is quickly overlooked?
We often organize our lives by the major events that we have experienced. We remember things that stand out like birthdays, graduations, or traumatic events, often overlooking the the real ‘meat and potatoes’. The things that make us who we are aren’t the biggest or most memorable instances, but the way we either prepare for them or respond to them. Psychology finds that there are different stages to enjoying an event: the anticipation or buildup, the actual experience of the event, and the memory of it. Of the three of these research shows that the first, the anticipation, creates the strongest feeling of enjoyment.
If you can visualize your favorite food right in front of you waiting to be eaten, the feeling you have may actually be more enjoyable than actually eating it. The feeling of knowing that something good is headed our way is often better than the thing itself.
The connection is simple. The Jewish people experienced two very significant events in a short span of time, Yetziat Mitzrayim and Matan Torah. While these event are both momentous and shape who we are as a people, we cannot overlook the ever so important transition. Is it not significant how the Jewish people responded to the exodus? And can we really overemphasize what the buildup to the acceptance of the Torah might have meant to Bnei Yisroel?
This is all true on a historical and national level, but also on a personal level. When we experience something that should mean a lot to us do we ask ourselves the following questions: What just happened? Why did it happen? How can I learn from it going forward? We can do the same exercises when looking ahead towards the future. Practicing this outlook is what we call living life intentionally, and not letting valuable opportunities for lessons and self-growth pass by.
Many ask why the Passuk says “And you should count for yourselves”, Vayikrah (23:15), the source for the mitzvah of Sefirat HaOmer. It seems unusual to say that we are counting for ourselves, unless of course we can understand this new perspective. The Sefira Period is time for self-growth and reflection. It is a time to recognize that life is often about journeys and not destinations. We should capitalize on these unique 49 days to grow into the best people we can be, and realize that this goal is one to be constantly pursued and not arrived at.