Math is not my favorite subject. But these days, I am very focused on counting – the number of boxes I need to pack up my books; the number of Bar Mitzvah students I need to schedule; the number of days until we move; the amount of time I need to get through my to-do list. In the period of our Jewish tradition, we are in the midst of counting the Days of the Omer. And then, this week in Torah, we begin the Book of Numbers – Bemidbar, which literally means ‘in the desert’; it opens with a census-taking, a counting of the Israelites. I am counting up, counting down, and needing to count on many pieces falling into place in the weeks ahead.
This time of year is especially busy for cantors and rabbis who are getting ready to begin new jobs; I find it personally interesting this year to note that this transition coincides in our Torah cycle with the Israelites sojourn in the wilderness. For myself, I am once again facing that wilderness, that place and time of transition. The last time I faced this (17 years ago), I remember trying to allay the concerns of my young daughters with some Jewish context for our move; I explained that just like the Israelites made it through the wilderness to the Promised Land, so we would, too, with patience and time. Now, with more years behind me and a great deal more life experience, I find myself wondering about the perspective of seeing the wilderness just as ‘something to get through’ in order to get to something better.
I am finding that I need to bring that same perspective to the counting of the Omer. Each night, as I recite the blessing to count the day of the Omer, I remind myself of the spiritual practice connected to the counting of the Omer. Meant to be more than just numbering the day, each day is connected to meditation upon a personal spiritual trait; what I do with each day, step-by-step, daily work built into our tradition to move us spiritually from the enslavement of Pesach to be ready to receive Torah at Shavuot. It is not about what we have to do, but how we have to be. Merely counting is not enough. Psalm 90 reminds us: “Teach us to number our days, so that we may attain a heart of wisdom.” Our counting has to bring us to a place of learning and growth.
As I reflect upon this week’s words of Torah, counting up to Shavuot, counting down to our move across the country, and counting on our family, our friends and our new community that awaits our arrival, my own spiritual work is to remain grounded in the present, striving for the perspective and growth that is embodied in the full measuring of time.