Rabbi’s Review – May 2020

Counting Upwards

Rabbi Cassi Kail


From weekly Shabbat candle lightings with the family to virtual play dates, daily dance parties, long walks, journaling and Peloton workouts, each of us has come up with ways to cope with the Covid-19 crisis. Each of us has found activities that center us, distract us, and give us life at this challenging time. While I’ve enjoyed taking nice long walks, playing guitar, and playing games with my children, I’ve found that what centers me most is my daily practice of Counting the Omer.

The word “omer” refers to a measure of grain, which was brought to the Temple on the second day of Passover in honor of our liberation from Egypt. Starting on the second day of Passover there is a tradition to mark each of 50 days until the holiday of Shavuot. This practice is called “counting the omer.”

Each morning, as I prepare to mark another day of the omer, I strive to free myself from all that continues to hold me back from living my best life. The kabbalists teach us to prepare ourselves for Shavuot by focusing on personal attributes each day. “Are we patient enough? Are we kind? Are we disciplined, compassionate and forgiving?” With each step, they teach, we free ourselves from that which enslaves us so that we are ready to freely receive the Torah on Shavuot.

When I’m looking forward to a holiday or celebration, I often create a countdown. I count down to birthdays, graduations, and even family vacations. When we count the omer, however, we always count upwards. The focus is not on Shavuot at all. It is on the first day we arrived in the foreign terrain, the wilderness, as a free nation. We count upwards from the day we, scared and unsure, began our journey towards the Promised Land.

Shavuot is just one monumental day on a larger journey through the wilderness. In counting upward through the omer, I am reminded that few things in life are predetermined. The importance does not lie on the destination, but rather on the journey itself. In counting upward through the omer, I am giving myself opportunities each day to grow, to learn, and to be inspired to live my best life, even from the confines of my home. I am reminded to be more fully present in the here and now.

We are acutely aware, in the age of Covid-19 how unpredictable and uncertain life is. We, like the Israelites, do not know when this chapter will end, but with each day we move ever closer to that dream. Each morning, I am delighted that so many of you join me in counting the omer. I invite everyone else to join as well. Together we can count each day with gratitude, and in the process make each day count.