When I was a child I remember my friends at school having advent calendars, large charts that they hung on the wall as they counted down the days to Christmas. Each day had a little window which would be opened and inside was a picture, a message or even a small treat. I was so envious of those calendars, I too wanted to open little windows and count down the days to a special celebration, I didn’t want to be the Jewish child who missed out again, I wanted a sparkly, special counting calendar too. This childhood longing remained with me well beyond my childhood so imagine my joy when I walked into a Judaica shop in America and saw a calendar, with glitter and little windows for counting the days to a celebration. At first I was a little shocked, it was a Judaica shop, what were they doing with Christmas calendars? But looking closer I realized it was not an advent calendar it was an omer calendar, a sparkly calendar to count the days of the omer from Pesach all the way to Shavuot. I bought the calendar and that year religiously counted the 49 days of the omer and much as I loved opening the little windows and finding the surprise which lay behind them, the counting was more meaningful than it had ever been before because for the first time, I paid proper attention to each day, building in excitement until I finally reached the festival of Shavuot.
I sometimes feel a little sorry for Shavuot. Of the three pilgrimage festivals, it often seems to be the less noticed, not as pretty sister to the others. Pesach is always an enormous celebration, Sukkot has the joy and festivity after the heaviness and introspection of the Yamim Nora’im but poor Shavuot, in the cold, dark of winter, often gets overlooked like the fruit platter next to the bon vivante. But Shavuot and Pesach are integral, one to the other and they are connected and linked by the counting of the Omer. As we reminded ourselves at Pesach, we were not freed from Egypt in order to merely be free. God took us out of Egypt to give us the commandments, to teach us how to be holy, how to do God’s work and heal the world, and we do that by following the commandments. God freed us from Egypt in order for us to receive the Torah and to begin to live its values and teachings in every aspect of our lives. And the calendar reminds us of this crucial and important link by commanding us to count the days between the two festivals, to take the journey our ancestors did, from freedom to responsibility so that we too can stand at Sinai during Shavuot and receive the Torah for ourselves.
But the counting of the Omer is more than a bridge linking the two festivals together, it is also a reminder to each of us to stop and recognize the importance and significance of every single day. When I counted with the calendar it caused me to pause once a day to mark the passage of time, to think about my journey towards Shavuot, to consider what had happened between the previous day and this one. And that small pause to count and consider, to think and reflect is something so many of us miss in our lives. We are so rushed and harried that we don’t take the time to pause and consider where we are going, to count our blessings and the gifts in our lives. This period of counting the Omer is an opportunity to reflect upon each day, to think about our journey through life and to make each day the best it can be, to make it count.