Counting the Days

We are doing a lot of counting these days.

We count the sick and we count the dead.

We count the unemployment numbers and the days that have blurred together into one.

These numbers are weighty and depressing, and yet, they are at the front and center of our lives.

Many years ago, there were other numbers we counted during this season, the number of days between the holiday of Passover / Pesach and the holiday of Shavuot, the Festival of Weeks. We counted forty-nine days, seven weeks between the ripening of the first barley and the presentation of the first fruit at a Temple now destroyed. Some Jews still count those days. We don’t, but we can still eat scrumptious new produce if we choose. That is almost certainly more meaningful to us than celebrating the anniversary of the giving of the Torah at Sinai, which is how the ancient rabbis saw this day.

Counting takes commitment and this is one theme that modern Jewish communities like to emphasize during this holiday, because the word ‘Shavuot’ in Hebrew means not only ‘weeks’ it also means oaths– commitments. According to one particularly disturbing legend, the God figure held Mount Sinai over the Israelites heads and told them that if they didn’t accept the Torah he would topple it upon them, so they did. We feel obligated to take on many commitments these days that we didn’t sign on to: a commitment to socially distance, a commitment to wear a mask, a commitment not to celebrate with those we love. We take on those commitments not because someone is forcing us, but because we wish to uphold our greatest value, the preservation of human life.

And there will come a time, soon I hope, when we can once again go out and give our friends a hug, and this hug will be so much more meaningful because of how much it cost us to give this hug without fear.

Stay safe everyone, I am counting the days until I can see you in person.