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“Sefiras Ha’Omer: It’s About Time”
By Rabbi Shlomo Zalman Bregman
The Torah teaches that there is an obligation to count each of the 49 days between when the Jewish people left Egypt and when we received the Torah at Mount Sinai. This seven-week period is referred to in Torah literature as "Sefiras Ha'Omer" and corresponds to the 49 days in which our ancestors spiritually prepared themselves to receive the Torah on the Holiday of Shavuos.
Many of the Torah commentators point out that it would be a serious error to view these 49 days as a single block of time. Rather, each and every one of the 49 days of the Omer is a unique and separate spiritual opportunity, a one-of-a-kind moment in which we can incorporate an additional facet of spiritual excellence into our souls. If a Jewish person wastes even one of these days without some measure of spiritual improvement, he will be lacking in aspects of preparedness and perfection when the moment arrives to accept the Torah anew.
What emerges from here is that managing our time wisely and maximizing its value is one of the central themes of Sefiras Ha'Omer. Let's take a closer look at some of the Torah's teachings in this area.
YOU CAN TAKE IT WITH YOU
In Parshas Chayei Sarah (Bereishis 24:1), the Torah states, "Now Avraham was old, he came with days (Bah Bayomim)." What does it mean that Avraham came with days? He most certainly didn't reach old age carrying a stack of outdated calendars!
Addressing this question, the Zohar (Parshas Vayechi) explains that in the supernal Garden of Eden, a person's clothing, ie. their soul's ‘clothing,' is made up of the days of their lives. In other words, in Heaven we are clothed with time, and one who has wasted their lifetime on Earth will have no garments for their soul in the Afterlife. By way of example, when the Torah tells us that Adam and Eve were naked in the Garden of Eden, in addition to expressing a basic truth about their absence of physical garments, the Zohar says there is a deeper lesson being conveyed here. Adam and Eve are described as naked because at this point, they had only experienced one day in this world... and they had wasted this time in sin! This is the mystical explanation as to why Adam and Eve were naked, and also sheds light as to why Hashem had to fashion for them new garments shortly thereafter.
With this understanding as to the nature of time, we can return to our original question. What does it mean that Avraham "came with days?" The Zohar explains that in contrast to Adam and Eve, Avraham had used each and every one of his days correctly, replete with maximum Torah accomplishment and mitzvah performance. As such, Avraham entered his final days in this world with all of his time intact, ready to accompany him to the Next World.
PERSPECTIVE FROM THE GRAVE
Although most people intrinsically recognize the preciousness of time, few and far between are those individuals who regularly wring the most potential out of each moment. Sadly, the rule of thumb in this area is that the closer one senses he is to his death, the more he appreciates lost time and wasted opportunity. If we could somehow have the vantage point of the elderly or the deceased while we are still relatively youthful, we would certainly lead different lives with the clarity this perspective would afford.
This observation is not only the province of this author. The Alter of Kelm once spoke about this theme in a short-but-piercing Teshuva Drasha. He asked his audience to consider the following scenario:
If those individuals who were buried in the cemetery of Kelm could somehow leave their graves for one hour, what would they do with it? The answer is simple- learn Torah and perform Mitzvos!! One fellow would race to the yeshiva to grab a Gemara... another would sprint to the shul to daven... the next would next desperately look for an opportunity to do an act of kindness, etc. Would any of us imagine that these individuals would waste this hour on temporal, finite pursuits? No way! These individuals certainly wouldn't spend the time updating their Facebook accounts or checking the score of last night's Yankee game. Instead, these souls would keep their eyes on the clock, knowing all the while that this hour was their last and only opportunity to increase their reward in Olam Haba.
Now, if this would be the perspective of those whose time is this world has already ended, why do we, who presumably still have more time left to live, act so cavalierly with this precious commodity? And if a person would be unwilling to give away the last day of his life, why are so many of us willing to waste day after day in the middle?
These are most certainly weighty questions, and anyone possessed with common sense will not allow them to pass by without serious reflection.
Every Jew must live with the awareness that time is the fabric upon which the story of our lives will be written, both in this World and the Next. Will it be an extraordinary life? Perhaps an average one? Or will we G-d forbid be consigned to join the endless number of individuals who were blessed with great potential yet never brought it to fruition?
The answer to these questions largely depends upon the extent to which we become masters of the medium of time. If we've perhaps been somewhat careless with this golden commodity in the past, Sefiras Ha'Omer is the perfect time of year to work on managing our time correctly, infusing it with meaning, and rededicating ourselves to appreciating its transcendental power.
Rabbi Shlomo Zalman Bregman is Founder of the Jewish Executive Learning Network (JELN), a Lakewood-based organization that shares the beauty of Torah study with young professional men in their 20's and 30's in the New York City area. His JELN classes are available in video and MP3 format at TorahAnytime.com. In addition to his communal work, Rabbi Bregman manages his own law firm, specializing in Corporate Law and Trusts & Estates. He may be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org.