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Counting the Days to Help Decide Exactly What Counts in Life

May 25, 2011 By:
Rabbi Lynda Targan
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We are now observing a period called Sefirat HaOmer, the counting of the Omer, a verbal counting of each of the 49 days plus one between Passover and Shavuot.

It is customary during the Omer counting to study Pirkei Avot, a rabbinic blueprint for ethical living, and to ask ourselves the big questions that allow us to be the best we can be, the most engaged, spirited community, and for some, the most connected to God.

Beginning with the second day of Pesach, when an omer, a measure or sheaf of barley, was brought to the Temple in Jerusalem, until the day before Shavuot, when an offering of wheat was taken to the Temple, the counting of the Omer is a mitzvah deriving from Leviticus 23:15.

"And from the day on which you bring the sheaf of elevation offering -- the day after the Sabbath -- you shall count off seven weeks. They must be complete: You must count until the day after the seventh week -- 50 days; then you shall bring an offering of new grain to the Lord."

The counting unfolds early each evening after the special blessing is recited until the entire seven weeks is complete. Nowadays, many people have special Omer counters to remind them of the correct day, and there are even apps for the electronically inclined.

The counting, bracketed between Pesach -- the commemoration of the redemption of the Israelites from slavery -- until Shavuot -- Z'man Matan Torahteinu, the time of the giving of our Torah -- represents the Israelites transition from an am, a disparate, enslaved people to an edah, God's treasured community infused with a group consciousness.

It is understood as a time of transformation and spiritual ascension as the Israelites prepared to receive the Torah and make their way to the Land of Israel.

For various reasons, tradition considers the omer also to be a mini-mourning period, with the sadness interrupted on Lag B'Omer, the 33rd day of the counting, which we marked this year on Sunday, when many weddings take place and people create celebrations that include lighting bonfires.

Hearkening back to the Israelites' preparation for receiving the Torah, the period of Omer is considered symbolically to be a time for potential inner growth, an opportunity for an individual to refine one's middot, or good characteristics, through reflection and development of one trait or aspect each day for the 49 days of the counting.

The period of the counting of the Omer enables us to ask: What counts in my life? How shall I spend my time? What do I have to do to ascend spiritually and perceive large and small revelations, which will become blessings to me as an individual and make me a blessing to others -- my family, my friends, the Jewish community, the world at large?

It also can become 50 ways to count one's blessings -- 50 days to develop an inner-culture of gratitude.

The question, "What counts in my life?", is a sacred and holy matter because what we learn gives meaning and purpose to our lives, as individuals and as a collective. It helps us live in the moment and work toward tikkun olam, repairing our imperfect, but inspired, God-given world.

Toward that end, what counts is being present in our relationships. What counts is showing up -- for the good, the bad and sometimes the ugly. What counts is helping others. What counts is reaching out and lending an outstretched hand to those who are less fortunate, even in challenging times. What counts is giving. What counts is creating community. What counts is finding meaning and purpose in acts of chesed, large and small.

What counts is knowing that each of us counts. We can count on that as we keep on counting.

Rabbi Lynnda Targan teaches in the graduate program at the Florence Melton Mini-School at Gratz College and other venues.

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