When I was a little girl, my mother taught my brothers and me to make chains of colored construction paper, one loop for each day before a longed-for event. Each evening before going to bed, we would ceremonially tear one loop off the chain and know how many days were left. In the spring we counted down to summer vacation; in the fall I counted down to my birthday.
As a people, we are similarly counting down at this time of year. During sefirat ha’omer (the counting of the Omer), each evening for the 49 days following Passover, we ceremonially mark off one more day as we proceed towards the longed-for holiday of Shavuot, the celebration of receiving Torah at Mt Sinai.
When I was a child, the purpose of the counting was to hurry along time as much as possible. It was an answer to the impatient question, “How many days NOW?” But spiritual practice helps us see this process in a very different light. Rabbi Nachman of Breslov taught that we must continually strive to see hasechel sheyesh bechol davar, the intelligence, or even signs of Divinity, that can be found in every single thing. His devoted disciple, Natan Sternharz, also known as Reb Noson, connected this teaching to counting the Omer.
Reb Noson noted that signs of Divinity can be found not just in every item, but in time as well—every day, hour and minute in its own unique way. To an ordinary person dealing with transactions and traffic and responsibilities, it’s a tall order to achieve the constancy of awareness that would permit us to see those unique signs of Divinity every day, let alone every minute! So we have this time of counting to help us practice being more finely attuned to the unique holiness of each particular day. For those of you interested in Mussar, it is very similar to the Mussar world’s offering of kabbalot, small tasks or opportunities to practice a particular middah or characteristic. The counting of the Omer is a bounded, but intensive training period for awareness.
So the counting is not to hurry along time. The counting is there to slow us down, to notice. Today is the 28th day of the Omer. What is unique about it? Where will the holiness be? Where might I find signs of Divinity if I only knew?
Wishing everyone a counting filled with wonder and blessings and joy!