web analytics
July 4, 2015 / 17 Tammuz, 5775
At a Glance
InDepth
Sponsored Post


Home » InDepth » Op-Eds »

Siyum: A Pivot Point In Time

Safran-050313

The ticking of the clock is uniformly, maddeningly constant. Tick, tick, tick. In equal, perfectly differentiated, precise segments. One second after another. Tick, tick, tick. A minute. An hour. One day. Another. Then a week. A month. A year. A lifetime.

Can you imagine how terrible it would be if the totality of our experience of time was as unchanging as its actual measure?

The clock is relentless, objective, mechanical. But God has created us to be the opposite; we have been created to be subjective, to engage with the world and with each other in such a way as to animate and give meaning to our experiences within the context of time. Certain moments and days are more significant than others – the birth of a child or grandchild, a wedding, etc.

Jewish time is anything but uniform. The week is a continual crescendo to the Sabbath. With the Sabbath’s arrival, we celebrate joyously only to reluctantly say farewell at havdalah before we start the cycle again. The Jewish year is an uneven temporal landscape where festivals and holidays, solemn observances and fasts, alter the meaning and significance of what might otherwise be just another day or season.

During no period are we any more conscious of the movement of time toward a festival as we are now, during the sefirah, the counting of the Omer. Each day, as we count the period from the second day of Passover through Shavuot, rather than measuring the ticking of time we are to mark the day with the counting of the Omer. Our sefirah, or counting, is celebrated first on the thirty-third of the counting (Lag B’Omer or Lag L’Omer among Sephardim) and at the culmination of the counting, Shavuot.

Why “pause” at Lag B’Omer to celebrate when the Torah makes no mention of the holiday? One reason for the holiday is that it is the passing of Rabbi Shimon bar Yochai. Another is the link between Lag B’Omer and the Bar Kochba revolt against the Roman Empire.

In both cases we see a clear example of finding meaning and significance in a moment in Jewish time.

We count time and find meaning in the events that define moments in time. But still, if these moments simply “happen upon us,” then the meaning and significance we find would be fleeting at best. The very movement of time imbued with meaning carries power.

We anticipate the coming of a special occasion. Our actions and our thoughts bring us into ever-sharper focus on the event and the celebration. Indeed, the occasion itself can be seen as a culmination of anticipatory moments. Isn’t this the sense we have when we celebrate a siyum?

In Judaism we learn that our accomplishments are reason for joy and religious satisfaction. For religious and learned Jews, there is no greater joy than that found in celebrating a siyum – celebrating the privilege of having had the opportunity to complete a significant part of Torah.

And yet we find that we never enjoy unbridled joy when we celebrate a siyum. I have often wondered at the strange, mixed emotion of the siyum. There is joy, absolutely, but also something else – an anxiety, a sadness, a sense, perhaps, of depletion. But why should a moment of such joy and accomplishment be tinged with any kind of negative emotion?

Even in our moments of joy, when time seems to be the repository of such powerful meaning, time is still time. It cannot be what it is not. It moves on, relentless. So in addition to our accomplishments there is the awareness of finality, of passing a moment of which the long road of life has fewer and fewer ahead.

Our ability to anticipate is diminished not by the anticipation itself but by our awareness that the road ahead is shortened. It is a blessing to celebrate an eighty-fifth birthday, but can one celebrate such a birthday without the awareness that, unlike when he was a young man of twenty, there cannot be more than a handful of such moments yet ahead?

It is as if while listening to a brilliant pianist practicing, it were possible to hear the soft echo of the metronome growing louder. The constant, steady beat intruding just enough to enter one’s awareness, even as the beauty of the playing remains dominant.

The genuine Jew wants not only to celebrate the joys of yesterday but even more to anticipate the hopes of tomorrow. But the awareness of time continuing cannot help but begin to color that anticipation.

With age comes wisdom and with wisdom comes greater awareness.

I know a man who, when gazing at friends and family members who had gathered to celebrate his daughter’s wedding, felt a clouding over his heart. Even as he enjoyed the event – something he and his family had anticipated for many months with growing excitement – he knew the moment was passing and there was no way to hold it.

So we count, engaging in our personal sefirah.

The question for each of is, do we count b’Omer or l’Omer? Do we count on the Omer or do we count to the Omer? Like anything else, what might appear to many to be an insignificant alteration has the potential to teach us powerful lessons. Inherent in the small so-called grammatical difference between these two formulations is the question, do you count to the current moment or do you count forward?

There was a time in my life when I would have wrestled with the question with the dispassionate air of a student. I would have viewed it as an interesting question, worthy of thoughtful discussion. However, some time ago I received a personal lesson on the power of counting.

When I was diagnosed with prostate cancer, I was told I would have to undergo forty-five radiation treatments. Forty-five treatments. The number seemed astronomical. Never ending. How could I endure such a course?

I possess a simple pocket OU luach. I took the luach from my shirt pocket and began to mark in it – “1” for the first treatment, “2” for the second and so on, until all forty-five treatments were noted and the coming siyum, when I prayed to God I would be healed, was concrete, a day on my calendar.

So each day of my personal sefirah I reported for treatment and found myself lying face up on the table for about fifteen minutes, having a very deep conversation with God. By the second or third treatment, I knew the psalms and prayers that could fit perfectly into my treatment time – some repeated more than once, naturally. My prayers were prayers both of gratitude at having made it thus far in my life (b’Omer) and pleas for a complete recovery (l’Omer). I knew how far I’d gotten, and how much farther I hoped to go.

On the table I came to fully understand that, though the berachah for the sefirah is the same, there is a profound difference between counting b’Omer and l’Omer. It is important that we count to know where we are – and where we are yet to go. Some of our greatest sages, including Rav Soloveitchik and the Brisker Rav, understood this. They used both expressions. After all, life is a combination of all there has been and all that is yet to come.

A siyum captures both at the same moment, filling us with both joy and the power of awareness.

About the Author: Rabbi Dr. Eliyahu Safran is an educator, author and lecturer. He can be reached at e1948s@aol.com.


If you don't see your comment after publishing it, refresh the page.

Our comments section is intended for meaningful responses and debates in a civilized manner. We ask that you respect the fact that we are a religious Jewish website and avoid inappropriate language at all cost.

If you promote any foreign religions, gods or messiahs, lies about Israel, anti-Semitism, or advocate violence (except against terrorists), your permission to comment may be revoked.

No Responses to “Siyum: A Pivot Point In Time”

Comments are closed.

Current Top Story
UN Human Rights Council
UN HRC Condemns Israel (But Not Hamas) for War Crimes
Latest Indepth Stories
Jelgava Synagogue, Latvia

Latvia, July 4, 1941 they forced many Jews in the shul putting it on fire; everyone was burned alive

United Nations Building, New York City

There’s blood on the reporters’ hands AND New Israel Fund for funding groups feeding lies to the UN

Zuckerman-070315

Respect & appreciation for our country is not only a civic value but an essential Jewish one as well

wedding cake

When words lose meaning, the world becomes an Orwellian dystopia; a veritable Tower of Babel

Israel, like the non-radical Islamic world. will be happy see the ISIS beheaded for once.

Kids shouldn’t have “uninstructed” Internet access, better to train them how to use it responsibly

What if years from now, IS were to control substantial territory? What world havoc would that wreak?

Rambam writes the verse’s double term refers to 2 messiahs: first King David; 2nd the final Mashiach

The Gaza flotilla has been rightfully and legally blocked by Israel’s Navy, with greetings from Bibi

The president described the attack as “an act that drew on a long history of bombs and arson and shots fired at churches, not random, but as a means of control, a way to terrorize and oppress…”

“The only [candidate] that’s going to give real support to Israel is me,” said the 69-year-old Trump.

And whereas at the outset the plan was that Iran would have to surrender most of its centrifuges, it will now be able to retain several thousand.

Now oil independent, US no longer needs its former strategic alliances with Gulf States-or Israel

In addition to the palace’s tremendous size it was home to the “hanging gardens,” which were counted among the seven wonders of the ancient world.

More Articles from Rabbi Eliyahu Safran
Rabbi Eliyahu Safran

What makes a man dedicated to what is best, stray? What makes a leader, a rabbi, lose his way?

Rabbi Eliyahu Safran

Peace/Shalom/Wholeness: A gift conferred; earned and received by God’s grace; His blessing.

Lag B’Omer became the “Scholar’s Festival” reminding all that derech eretz kadmah l’Torah-

The only way to become humble is honesty about our experiences; it’s the only path to true humility

Too rarely appreciated for its symbolic weight; it can represent freedom and independence.

Jews cover the head not as ID but because wearing it makes concrete to ourselves our devotion to God

It’s easier to take Jews out of galus than to take galus out of Jews – Chassidic master

What is its message of the dreidel?” The complexity and hidden nature of history and miracles.

Printed from: http://www.jewishpress.com/indepth/opinions/siyum-a-pivot-point-in-time/2013/05/01/

Scan this QR code to visit this page online: