Counting Down and Counting Up: Avidan's Reflections on the Omer

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Please enjoy a d'var Torah this week by Rosh Garinim 2019 Avidan Halivni. 2019 will be Avidan’s twelfth summer at camp, and his fifth on staff! Last summer he was Rosh Garinim and Halutzim. Originally from Deerfield, Illinois, Avidan is graduating from Columbia University with a major in religion. He plans to spend next year in Germany, serving the Conservative/Masorti movement there.

Counting Down and Counting Up: Reflections on the Omer
by Avidan Halivni

This time of year is a time of counting. We are in the period of the Jewish calendar from Passover to Shavuot known as “the Omer, where we are instructed to count seven weeks from one holiday to the next, tracing the journey of the children of Israel from the Exodus to the giving of the Torah. This commandment is laid out explicitly in this week’s parashah, Emor, with the following statement: 

וּסְפַרְתֶּ֤ם לָכֶם֙ מִמָּחֳרַ֣ת הַשַּׁבָּ֔ת מִיּוֹם֙ הֲבִ֣יאֲכֶ֔ם אֶת־עֹ֖מֶר הַתְּנוּפָ֑ה שֶׁ֥בַע שַׁבָּת֖וֹת תְּמִימֹ֥ת תִּהְיֶֽינָה׃עַ֣ד מִֽמָּחֳרַ֤ת הַשַּׁבָּת֙ הַשְּׁבִיעִ֔ת תִּסְפְּר֖וּ חֲמִשִּׁ֣ים י֑וֹם וְהִקְרַבְתֶּ֛ם מִנְחָ֥ה חֲדָשָׁ֖ה לַיהוָֽה׃

And from the day on which you bring the sheaf of elevation offering—the day after the sabbath—you shall count off seven weeks. They must be complete. You must count until the day after the seventh week—fifty days; then you shall bring an offering of new grain to the LORD.    (Leviticus (23:16-17)

The mitzvah of counting the Omer generates an atmosphere of anticipation: from the time we finish our (second) Seder we are looking forward to the annual reception of the Torah on the holiday of Shavuot.

This time of year is also characterized by counting for a different reason: we are now in the final weeks before another wonderful and special summer up at camp. Here too, many of us have been eagerly awaiting this time from the minute we stepped off the bus last August, the proverbial “waiting ten months for these two.” With each passing day we get closer to our goal; the countdown inching us closer to Conover.

But when camp is also measured in weeks, it is important to ensure that our time at camp is also not spent in a state of “counting down,” bemoaning the dwindling time we have left with our friends instead of making the most of every moment. With each day of the summer, we need to remember that it is not more time that is simply passing us by but rather a renewed opportunity for personal growth and building deeper relationships.

This is the lesson of the Omer: Why do we count the Omer up, rather than down? The answer lies in the mindfulness that a count-up provides, rather than the burning anticipation of a countdown. During a countdown, like in those final days of the school year before camp begins, it is very easy to want to rush through it, going on autopilot until we reach our camp friends once more. But at camp, life moves very fast as well; the Omer challenges us to slow down and bring a thoughtfulness to each day. It is a spiritual practice that enables us to cherish every passing day not for its fleeting temporal value, but for the opportunity that it heralds for elevating the things we care about most.

Here’s to a countdown to camp that goes by quickly, and a count-up during the summer that will grant us the presence of mind to enjoy each moment and grow a little bit more each day.

Ann Lesley Rosen