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Toward Shabbat: Emor

“Watch out, Mommy!” my two and a half year old will say. “There’s a monster behind you!” Then she yells “run away!” and signals for me to run after her. We jump on the couch and hide by throwing a blanket over our heads until the scary monster is gone. The monster always leaves as quickly as it comes, like all of my daughter’s emotions these days, which vacillate wildly and quickly. Tears turn to giggles, dancing to exhaustion, in the blink of an eye. This is one of the many ways she reminds me that nothing lasts forever. 

This is also one of the lessons we can learn from the practice of counting the Omer, the seven-week period from Pesah to Shavuot. The mitzvah (commandment) to count the Omer is found in this week’s parashah, Emor. 

וּסְפַרְתֶּם לָכֶם מִמׇּחֳרַת הַשַּׁבָּת מִיּוֹם הֲבִיאֲכֶם אֶת־עֹמֶר הַתְּנוּפָה שֶׁבַע שַׁבָּתוֹת תְּמִימֹת תִּהְיֶינָה׃ עַד מִמׇּחֳרַת הַשַּׁבָּת הַשְּׁבִיעִת תִּסְפְּרוּ חֲמִשִּׁים יוֹם

And from the day on which you bring the sheaf of elevation offering (omer), the day after the Sabbath [Pesah], you shall count off seven weeks. They must be complete: you must count until the day after the seventh week—fifty days…(Vayikra 23:15-16).

There are seven weeks and 49 days between Pesah and Shavuot, and we are commanded to count both the days and weeks. This counting is a ritual that originated as an agricultural practice, which later became connected to our narrative of liberation to revelation, and then, in the Rabbinic period, became tied to the time period in which a plague killed tens of thousands of Rabbi Akiva’s students. How can we relate to this ancient ritual of counting today? In her book Omer: A Counting, Rabbi Karyn Kedar suggests one way we can make meaning out of our counting. Counting can be a mindfulness practice, she says—a reminder of impermanence. She writes:

Everything passes. Moments pass. Moments of crisis and moments of calm all pass.

Life is a force, it flows with breath and energy, desire and need, hunger and pain, peace and belonging, knowing and doubt. Like the wind, like the scorching summer, like the bitterness of coffee, like the orange of a late-day moon, like the radiance of trees in the spring, like the high-pitched cry of your firstborn baby, like the beauty of your youth like the whispers of midnight.

Just like my daughter’s fleeting emotions, the rhythmic ritual of counting the days and the weeks of the Omer renews in us the understanding that nothing is permanent. Neither the experiences or emotions we hope will last forever—the joy of reconnecting with a dear friend or the excitement of conquering a new skill—nor the experiences or emotions we long to rid ourselves of even before they arrive—the illness of a loved one or the crippling anxiety of finding a new job—will be with us forever. 

However, this impermanence exists alongside the permanent, the foundations that buoy us when we feel like we are drowning as the waves of life pass over us one at a time. Rabbi Kedar continues: 

Everything passes.

And yet, the strength of your character, the nature of your relationships, and the depth of love in your life all linger in the air; like the transcendent energy that is neither created or destroyed.

The divine sparks that exist beyond space and time—the strength of character, the nature of our relationships, the depth of our love, as Rabbi Kedar teaches—are the very values in which Shabbat affords us to live into every week. While the Omer only lasts for seven weeks of the year, Shabbat comes weekly. Shabbat, the anchor of our week, offers us the time to appreciate our relationships, love, and our strength of character amidst the constant changes that bombard us. 

There is always the moment, as my daughter and I hide from the monster, when we find ourselves in the darkness of the blanket, gazing deeply into each other’s eyes. I try to hold onto these moments, knowing that they will pass as she gets older. We smile at each other knowingly; the monster has passed, but we stay a little longer, lingering in the safety of our love. 

Our world and our minds can be scary places full of monsters, both those that leave quickly and those that we must actively fight, that we pray will eventually pass. Tonight, as we run toward the warm blanket of Shabbat and count another passing day of the Omer, may we feel permission to linger a little bit longer in that which matters most to us.