“And you shall count for yourselves from the morrow of the day of rest… there should be seven complete weeks. Until the morrow of the seventh week, you shall count fifty days.” (Leviticus 23:15-16)
The Torah commands us to count forty nine days from the first day of Passover up until the holiday of Shavuot. Seven complete weeks (7×7) gets us to forty nine days and the Torah tells us to add one more day to get to fifty. One of the reasons given for the counting of the Omer is to get us excited for the upcoming holiday of Shavuot where we were given the Torah on Mount Sinai. Like a child anticipating his or her upcoming birthday, we cross off the days on the calendar waiting for the big day to happen. But the counting is not just about waiting for the day to arrive; it is about a process of preparation and introspection.
The period of the Omer is indeed a time during which we are meant to be thinking about self- improvement, spiritual growth and readying ourselves to truly “receive” the Torah in our hearts. It is not just a time to cross off the days, but a time when each day must be seen as an opportunity for change. The counting that we do is not meant to be a sentimental passing of time until we reach Shavuot, but a process of development as each day passes.
Sometimes we have to remind ourselves as both parents and teachers that each child will reach his or her own potential as a result of incremental steps of growth. We must realize that there is also reason to celebrate the process and not just the results. We are easily swayed by grades and test scores, but these are really just measures of one point in time and should not be our vision of the whole child. Even for ourselves as adults, we need to recognize that there is much learning that we gain through our experiences on the path toward attaining our goals. The journey is sometimes more important than the end result and the way that we handle the ups and downs and curves on the road is really what makes us better people.
Perhaps this is also one of the reasons why the actual date of Shavuot is not mentioned anywhere in the entire Torah. The Torah states that the holiday takes place at the end of 50 days ― because the key is to get there at your own pace, one step at a time.
I think about my own attempts to change something in my life such as adding in more times for exercise or eating less unhealthy food. I would love to be able to just make those changes rapidly and permanently but change is difficult. The lesson of counting the Omer is this: a)not everything has to happen right away; b)small changes or increments done consistently will have long lasting effects ; and c) we cannot to get discouraged if we have setbacks or days without results.
If we can maintain a healthy perspective about our ideas with respect to personal growth, we will be better parents, teachers, friends and role models for each other on our respective journeys. This process applies to getting ready to receive the Torah and toward all areas in our lives in which we want to make improvements.