Familiarity Breeds Respect
Anticipation. What a wonderful feeling. As the long-awaited event
draws ever closer, we cannot help but count the days. Five days left.
Four days. The excitement builds and builds until it is almost
We experience this excited anticipation at this time of the year,
during the days of Sefiras Haomer, when we count down towards the
Giving of the Torah on Shavuos. But the count does not follow the
expected pattern. We do not count 49, 48, 47 and so on, calculating the
diminishing number of days remaining. Instead, we count 1, 2, 3 and so
on, calculating the days that have already passed. Why is this so?
A look into this week’s Torah portion offers an illuminating insight.
Hashem reassures us that if we are faithful to the Torah, He will shower
us with blessings. Among these is the promise to “place My Abode
among you, and I will not be revolted by you.” The choice of words here
is quite puzzling. If Hashem chooses to establish His Abode among the
Jewish people, why in the world would He be revolted by them?
The answer lies in a very familiar concept. We have always been
conditioned to believe that “familiarity breeds contempt,” and indeed, it
is true in most cases. When we observe a person from afar, we develop
an idealized impression formed of his most striking characteristics. But
as we become more familiar, as we draw closer, we begin to notice the
minute faults, the moles and warts, both literal and figurative, that are
not visible from afar. We no longer think of this person as such a
paragon of virtue but as an ordinary person with human failings - if not
worse. Furthermore, a relationship that falls into familiarity loses its
glamour and mystique. The old thrill is often gone.
One might have thought, therefore, that when the Creator chose to
establish His Abode among the Jewish people it would spell the
beginning of the end for His special relationship with them. Although, He
certainly is all-seeing and all-knowing, when the shortcomings and
foibles of the Jewish are not brought into the spotlight of the Divine
Presence, so to speak, they are not as easily dismissed. When Hashem
actually dwells among the Jewish people, a higher standard of behavior
is required; anything less would be “revolting” to Him. From the side of
the people, furthermore, one might have thought that the thrill of having
the Divine Presence among them would eventually dissipate, and the
people would take it for granted, once again causing Him to be
“revolted,” so to speak. Therefore, Hashem reassures us that this will
not happen. The relationship would grow ever stronger, breeding
respect not contempt.
During the days of Sefiras Haomer, our counting is not merely an
emotional outburst of impatience and anticipation. Rather, it is a sober
expression of a gradual process of drawing closer to Hashem, whereby
each day is a building block resting on the previous day and forming a
foundation for the next.
As we contemplate the approach of the awesome Giving of the
Torah, as we condition our inner selves to become attuned to the
eternal truths of the universe, we undergo a process of growth. As we
draw closer to the Creator, we are increasingly overwhelmed by His
infinite greatness. And we become ever more purified and more beloved
to Him. The Count of the Omer, in its ideal form, is the record of this
growth, of this blossoming relationship.
Two cross-country travelers met in a roadside inn.
“Tough trip,” one of them commented to the other. “But just one
thousand miles to go, and I’ll reach the coast. How about you?”
“I’m also heading for the coast. I’ve covered two thousand miles
already, and I’ve had a very good trip.”
“Really? Say, if we’re both going coast to coast, how come I find
the trip tough and you don’t?”
The other thought for a moment, then he said, “It’s really quite
simple. You say you have a thousand miles to go, which shows your
mind is totally focused on the destination, and the entire trip is just
terrible drudgery. I say I’ve already covered two thousand miles, which
shows the trip itself has value to me. I enjoyed the spectacular vistas,
seeing new places and observing their ways of life. I look at my two
thousand miles as an accomplishment, and so, I’m having a very good
In our own lives, we acknowledge that we need to strive toward
idealistic goals, to a life of goodness and spirituality, but we sometimes
lose sight of the transcendent value of each passing day in helping us
achieve those goals. We think that at some future time we will become
more spiritual, that we will live a higher and better life. But these goals
cannot be reached by a mere decision and a snap of the fingers. Only
by painstakingly building a structure of days set upon days can we
reach the peaks to which we aspire. And in the process, we will discover
that getting there is itself a very rewarding and enriching experience.
Text Copyright © 2011 by Rabbi Naftali Reich and Torah.org.
Rabbi Reich is on the faculty of the Ohr Somayach Tanenbaum Education Center.