Dvar Torah - Acharei Mot
Counting to something or counting for something?
For some of our children, the countdown to their next birthday begins immediately when the last one has finished. The excitement of the event is almost too much. They can't bear to go even a day without that in their lives. However, it's not that they understand or have internalised what ‘365 days to go’ means. That number is certainly too high for even most adults to truly work with. Instead, counting connects the next birthday to the previous one and makes it real in their minds.
We find ourselves now in a similar Jewish period. The Torah specifies that from the day after the first (in Israel, the only) Seder and the sacrifices of the Pesach offering, we bring a grain offering of barley as the first grains are brought to market and begin counting 50 days. At the end of the count, we will celebrate Shavuot, the day of the giving of the Torah. Nachmanides explained that this count links Pesach and Shavuot together to turn the time between the two into almost a Chol HaMoed. The time in between has a different character because of the count. It is imbued with contemplation of what we are counting from and anticipation of what we are counting to. Otherwise, a 49-day break would feel like a long time, too long to allow that linking to happen in our minds organically.
Unfortunately, after a few days, my children will often abandon the count towards their next birthday. It's just too hard and too long to sustain. Similarly, every year many don't manage to maintain the daily counting of the Omer. It's too easy to forget it. Still, our awareness of counting changes something. It changes the time. If we know that the count is happening, even if we can't tell you exactly how many days have passed, it changes the character of the day. Today we count 11 days of the Omer. Only 39 to go!