Wednesday, May 25, 2016

Counting: The Omer, Minyans, and our obsession with numbers

Jews are obsessed with counting. We count days, people, everything has a specific day and every thing has a number associated with it. There are so many examples of this that I could write a whole post with just the list, but I wanted to address two because they seem contradictory.

For the first time in my life, I have successfully counted the Omer(thus far). The Omer is the period of time between Passover and Shavuot or the time between when the Jews were freed from Egypt and when we received the Torah. It never seemed significant to me, but this year, I decided to try it anyways, and what I realized is this: while the actual counting is not incredibly significant; I'm writing this on the 27th day of the Omer, having that ritual to do every night has become important. At school, my friend and I would say the blessing together if we were together at whatever time the remind popped up on my phone or when the rabbi told us to count(whichever one seemed more convenient), and on Friday night, we counted the Omer as one Hillel community. The ritual has coincidentally also marked the days between when I came home for Passover to when I leave for camp: the day I leave being the second day of Shavuot. It is a time of transition for me, and the counting of the Omer has helped to provide a ritual consistency at the end of each day and that has been comforting.

Many Saturday mornings first semester I got woken up by banging on my door asking if I could get up and come to services to make a minyan (the ten people needed to say certain prayers). I admit it, once and a while I rolled over, ignored them and went back to school. People frantically running around trying to find a ninth or tenth person for a minyan is not an uncommon occurrence and service leaders are constantly counting, but I recently learned that jews are not supposed to count people. This is apparently because when we are counted as individuals we lose the unity that is created when we are counted together. Instead we are instructed to all give a half shekel or find some other way of counting. This is kind of a beautiful idea even though it seems quite contradictory to many of our traditions. We are stronger together as I've talked about before, and we'd do well to remember that as we argue within the community.

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