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 serves as OU Kosher’s vice president of Communications and Marketing.
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