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What am I doing?

There are two ways to know something: learn about it or live it. Your knowledge can be encyclopedic, but where you stand on a matter also depends upon where you’ve stood.

A story is told of a lightening-strike in a dark forest. It causes a massive tree to crash to the ground. A man knows his wife and child are out there somewhere. Impulsively he prays, “God, please not them.” Rationally, the guy doesn’t believe in praying. He’s never had much use for it. But he didn’t decide to pray. Instead, he found himself praying.

This week’s portion of Torah networks holiness in time. Sacred Festivals get itemized. A verse that enjoins a practice of Counting the Omer, tethers Passover to Shavuot. “Count for yourself (u’sefartem lachem) seven full weeks” (Lev. 23:15). We’re taught to take the counting personally. It’s not supposed to be delegated or done vicariously. One comment associates it with an internal self-exam (Haketav V’hakabalah). As we take the Lulav cluster personally (u’lkachtem lachem), on Sukkot, so too we should personalize making each day count.

One way we do this, like the person praying that the fallen tree did not harm his family, happens when we find ourselves in the throws of life’s demands, asking ourselves What am I doing?

What am I doing? was a question that a young mother asked herself at 3:00 am one night as she raced to retrieve a donated organ in-time for it to aid in potentially life-saving medical research. She had left her two year-old and her newborn to travel seven hours through the night to retrieve and preserve a brain for vital neurological study.

Often we are jolted into asking What am I doing? when we’re in the thick of overwhelming moments that feel dark and daunting. If you’re fortunate, an answer swells around you like a monumental calm. It feels like a moment of agreement. You are doing what you’re meant to do, as you are meant to do it. It’s soothing, like the gentleness a hospital patient feels with the easing of her pillow.

For some, this moment hints at the notion that your self is not the ultimate authority over your soul. You become smart enough to know that being smart isn’t enough.

This doesn’t become some occasion for surrender. It doesn’t insist upon submission or even acceptance. Instead, such a moment invites agreement. You realize that life’s fullest moments aren’t merely pleasing, they’re also redeeming.

Why do we count each day at this time of the year? Why now? The question is sort of like a collective way of asking What am I doing? Well then, What are we doing? Passover is about redemption, the idea that tomorrow can be better than yesterday. The daily-counting practice begins at Passover to proclaim that each of us is meant to make our most pleasing moments into most redeeming moments.

Four full weeks ago we sat around our Seder tables to personalize the Passover story. In this season, as you ask What am I doing?, may you discern an answer that activates your higher purpose.

About the Author
Rabbi William Hamilton has served as rabbi (mara d'atra) of Kehillath Israel in Brookline, MA since 1995.
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