My son Aiden turned double digits last week. The number celebrates his ten years of life and mine as a parent. It’s hard to believe. I spent a long time praying, hoping to build a life with a partner and kids and mourning that it didn’t come to pass. But now I’m a decade into this beautiful life and it is more fulfilling than I imagined it could be. The psalmist teaches, “those that sow in tears will reap in joy.” (Psalm 126:5). The joy didn’t come in the way I dreamed, but I am at the turning point. The years of reaping will now be more numerous than the years of mourning. Life doesn’t always turn out that way. Sometimes it is quite the opposite. Many of us count the years we’ve lived without someone longer than we lived with them, and there is profound pain in that reality.
לִמְנ֣וֹת יָ֭מֵינוּ כֵּ֣ן הוֹדַ֑ע וְ֝נָבִ֗א לְבַ֣ב חָכְמָֽה׃
Teach us to count our days rightly, that we may obtain a heart of wisdom. (Psalm 90:12)
Counting is not only an exercise in marking time, but a spiritual practice of discernment to cultivate understanding and wisdom.
It’s been seven weeks since we gathered together for Shabbat services as a whole community. Five weeks since we started sheltering in place, 16 days since we ushered in Pesah, and 15 days since we began counting the omer.
Counting of the Omer
The 49-day spiritual counting of the omer that takes us from the second night of Pesah to Shavuot is a counting that is time limited. We have a goal. The wisdom that we obtain on Shavuot is the Torah, the heartbeat of our tradition. Each day of the counting is meant to be marked for its uniqueness and one more step in the process of spiritual refinement and readiness in receiving Torah anew.
Lately, the days seem less unique from one to the next, and one 24-hour period can feel like an eternity. One of the greatest challenges of living in this moment is not knowing when the rule of COVID-19 will come to an end. When will we experience the turning point of being liberated as long as we’ve been isolated? What wisdom will we gain from all this counting?
For many of us, getting through each day feels like an accomplishment. It is enough to just count the omer and fulfill the mitzvah. But counting is never the ultimate goal, just as Pesah and liberation are never the end point of our story. As Jews, it is incumbent upon us to seek and reveal the wisdom in this new reality of ours, the Torah of our time. I don’t want a return to normalcy. I want a renewed covenant as a country, as a humanity. I want us to become wiser, both individually and collectively, and to learn what was right and good and inspiring about these days. I want to raise up the holy acts of first responders and those who are preparing meals for them. I want to honor the small kindnesses of neighbors checking in on each other and the ways communities like ours* are holding each other close from a distance. I want to sustain that love, commitment, and solidarity. I also want us to learn about the failures of our society, like the lack of a safety net for the most vulnerable. What kind of democracy asks their citizens to vote in-person during a pandemic? How can we assure public transportation for those who need it to get to work, and yet fail to supply our transit workers with protective gear? How can we deem grocery store clerks and delivery people essential, but not provide them with a living wage? We need to make these stories count.
Please God, someday in the not-too-distant future, we will have the blessing of leaving our homes. How will we remember these days and stories and the tears that we have sown so that we might reap in joy? How will we rebuild our society with all the love, commitment, and wisdom we have gained by counting our days?
* At Kadima tefilah, after singing Olam Hesed Yibane (Build a World on Love)—I asked kids to share in the chat one way they were going to help build a world with love in the coming week.