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Counting our Days and Making Them Count

We are in the midst of the Counting of the Omer, the forty-nine days that take us from the second day of Passover to Shavuot. We refer to this period as ‘the counting of the Omer.’ It is a literal counting during which, each day, we ourselves grow one day closer to our symbolically receiving Torah at Shavuot. The counting process is also connected to our agrarian roots, when our Israelite ancestors would go from the first wheat crop to, seven weeks later, the peak of the season. They would offer these finest sheaves at Shavuot.

I believe the Counting of the Omer offers us – all these years later – a chance to take a spiritual accounting; it is a time for us to take stock of our relationship with faith, heritage and our Jewish identity. What in our lives needs tending to?

The rabbis of the Talmud will debate whether we should count the days or the weeks. Clearly the days win out in the end as this is the accepted practice around the Jewish world. It speaks to the reality that everyday counts; everyday must mean something.

For so many reasons, I feel that the practice of Counting the Omer holds great relevance this year. One, our tradition encourages us to number our days ‘that we might attain a heart of wisdom’ (Psalm 90:12). At this time of year, we might ask: Are we making our limited number of days on earth count fully? Are we living our lives fully? Are we choosing to challenge ourselves? Are we trying to learn and to grow each day? Are we filling our days with community, family and love? Are you choosing each day to try, to give, to reach, to hope?

I also feel this custom is important this year as we turn our eyes to Israel once and again. We count the days that the hostages have been held against their will. We count the days that this horrific and harrowing war rages on. We count, too, the many ways our own lives have changed since October 7, how there has been such increased antisemitism and vitriol, how our kids are feeling the great weight of prejudice online and at school, how Jews have been made to feel unsafe around our globe, how our world has so drastically and dramatically turned on Israel and the Jewish people. We feel all of it.

What else can we be counting these days? Perhaps our blessings. At this season of graduations and milestones, especially after a year such as this, let’s count our good fortune. Even amid times that feel darker, we must remember the good in our lives and all about us. Now is the time to be especially mindful of the ways in which we are blessed – each one of us. Where is there good in your life? Where is there joy? Where is there love?

At the time of the Holocaust, our people were reduced to numbers. They were denied their humanity, denigrated for being Jewish, mocked and more than that for who they were. Members of our own people, six million, ceased to be simply because they were Jews. 1.5 million Jewish children were murdered. These numbers matter too. We carry these numbers with us still. As the grandson of Holocaust survivors, those are numbers that matter to me – as I know they do to you. We live for them. We honor them with our lives. With them in mind each day, how can we best raise up the humanity in all people, Jews and non-Jews, local and half a world away? How can we best celebrate and dignify those we know and those we don’t know? Then we too might attain, in the words of the Psalmist, a heart of wisdom.