I was recently teaching a class at William and Mary. I asked the students how many days until the end of school. One student immediately yelled out, “23 Days and 12 hours left.” Another student said, “I don’t have to take many finals, so for me it’s only 20 days.” It is interesting that we look forward to dates on the calendar and, in anticipation for them, we count down to the event itself.
Right now the Jewish people are in the middle of a process called “sefirah.” Sefirah means counting. It started on the second night of Passover and it goes until the day before the holiday of Shavuot, which commemorates the Jewish people receiving the Torah from G-d. Each day we count “up,” not down. Each day we add another number so that when we get to the last day we have counted 49 days in anticipation of the 50th day, Shavuot.
Shavuot should be thought of as the pinnacle of the season. Imagine the greatest moments of your life. Think about the precious memories that come to mind and your life’s most significant events. For the Jewish people the receiving of the Torah on Mount Sinai was the most significant event ever. That moment defined our purpose and gave us our marching orders for all time. How, then, can we make this holiday more significant?
Like everything else in our lives, the things that we put the most effort into are the things that we get the most from. Shavout is a two-day holiday outside of Israel and a one-day holiday in the land of Israel. It is very short compared to Pesach and Sukkot. However, the potential for a life changing experience is no less. We just need to know how to prepare. Unlike Pesach and Sukkot, the holiday of Shavuot has a preparation plan built in and that is the sefirah. The counting of the days from Pesach to Shavuot is not for the sake of counting. This counting is an opportunity to change our lives. It is an opportunity to take a few minutes each day and concentrate on an aspect of our personalities that can use improvement. There are many books and websites that can guide us on this 49-day journey. The most important thing is that we recognize the need for self-analysis and engage in this most important activity.
The counting of sefirah is also significant because we are not counting down, like a college student might count down to end of his studies, but rather we are counting up. We are counting up to the completion of our souls, to the perfection of our personalities, and to the opportunity of climbing up our personal Mount Sinai. Shavuout connects us to an event that happened more than 3,300 years ago. Counting sefirah and celebrating Shavuot properly allows us to bring that revelation into our lives today. It gives us the power to recognize what our personal Mount Sinai is and empowers us with the tools to climb it. Take a moment each day, count sefirah, and make Shavuot a day of personal, spiritual success.
—Rabbi Gershon Litt, executive director, Norfolk Area Community Kollel