If by any chance you forgot one of the Torah holidays, fear not! There is one chapter where you can find them all: Leviticus 23, in the heart of the Torah portion of Emor. All together – seven (7) holidays, including Shabbat, Pesach, Shavuot, Rosh Hashana, Yom Kippur, Sukkot & Shmini Atzeret, from spring to fall with no Biblical winter holidays.
But wait, then what is Shabbat doing here?
Shabbat is mentioned in a lot of places throughout the Torah. I like it here as one of the holidays to remind us – perhaps – that, in spite of the differences (between the “real” holidays and Shabbat), our ability to connect with G-d and each other, to contemplate and celebrate who we are, comes, not only annually, but weekly. There is no need to wait for Yom Kippur or Pesach. Every week we can stop and take a moment.
In fact, “stop” is what Shabbat is all about. Shavat, in Hebrew, means to strike (like a worker’s strike, not like a blow); to cease working. G-d on this 7th day created something super important for us: the stop.
We know that when we work, there is always just one more thing to do: maybe my next draft will be better yet; maybe my next email is The important one; I’ll just finish one more thing…
When is the point of “enough”, “we’re done”?
Apparently, sometimes there is no “point”. One more correction, one more brush stroke, one more dish, one more load of laundry… G-d says, just stop! Now! You’re done. We can easily go on and on. This is what I would do even just with this entry here, not to mention longer writings. If draft number 18 was better than 17, I should go over it again. And again. And again. Right? Wrong. But that ability to pause has to be learned. The pause is just as important to the music as is the tune.
In between the holidays, we find another reminder of the value of here and now. The Torah tells us:
“וספרתם לכם ממחרת השבת, מיום הביאכם את עומר התנופה, שבע שבתות תמימות תהיינה, עד ממחרת השבת השביעית, תספרו חמישים יום”…
“And you shall count unto you from the morrow after the day of rest, from the day that you brought the sheaf of the waving; seven weeks shall there be complete; even unto the morrow after the seventh week shall you number fifty days”… (23:15-16).
This refers to the counting of the Omer where are now: seven weeks of seven days from Pesach and Shavu’ot. Time has seen us add numerous explanations and customs, and even holidays to the sfira, the count. All the “Israel days” are concentrated here; as kids, growing up in Israel, we were particularly religious about Lag Ba’omer, celebrating it with grand bonfires for which wood (very precious in Israel!) was collected (not to mention sometimes stolen) weeks in advance. This was in honor of Bar Kochva (the “hero”), Rabbi Akiva and the great revolt following the Temple’s destruction (we were not told of the disastrous results of this revolt…). Special minhagim were kept during the sfira: no shaving, no weddings (except on Lag Ba’omer).
And somehow, between it all, the original injunction of the sfira, was a little lost.
The sfira, first of all, is supposed to help us connect between Pesach and Shavu’ot; between the exodus and the time of giving of the Torah; between the wow of liberation and the reason of that liberation, or else, we’d still be running “free” in the desert. The sfira is a countdown (count-up?) to a special event, like waiting for a birthday, a big trip, a gift; something we expect excitedly; something without which we would be going nowhere with no purpose at all.
And, the sfira also reminds us that things don’t happen all at once, that things take time, and a process, sort of like creation. After all, G-d can do anything, so why take 6 days to create the world? Can’t he just say “poof” and ‘let there be world’?? Why break it down to light and dirt and plants and various animals? And why take a break in between?
Maybe to teach us that good things take time; that in order to build something real and beautiful, there is a course to go through, like a spiritual pregnancy. We can’t plant a seed and expect a blooming flower and fruit ripening on the tree on the next day. The seed has to rot in the ground, going through a process that many of us would consider disgusting, until a beautiful flower comes out. We can’t be born and immediately start hiking; we can’t be slaves, and get the Torah immediately.
Sometimes we forget, especially nowadays, when we’re bombarded with slogans for immediate gratification, everything from “peace now” to fast food, we want whatever it is, yesterday. We want others to guess our needs and give it to us sooner rather than later, before we even figured it out ourselves.
But the Torah says – the journey itself takes precedence to reaching the destination: “im bechukotai telchu”– if you (just) walk in accordance to my law”… (26:3). Each step along the way is a goal in itself, which we can’t do without. Like children, we count: One. Two…. Twelve… Twenty one… Thirty Three… We need each piece to complete the puzzle, even if we don’t always see the whole picture right away. We learn and practice patience and structure and putting things together…
In Genesis, we hear about Abraham who was “ba bayamim” (Genesis 24:1). “Ba bayamim” is a figure of speech which means advanced in years, but it literally means ‘comes in the days’, or better ‘comes with one’s days’. That means, said the sages, that when he was coming and going, he still had all his days; he still knew exactly what he did yesterday, and the day before, and a year ago, And since he managed to make each day meaningful, he came with all of them.
And so it is with us. We’re still taught to count. We need to count every day because every day counts.