We are now in the midst of another course of the counting of the Omer. The Sefer HaChinuch explains the “root” behind this Mitzvah;
“Being that the main purpose of the Jewish people is to observe the Torah, and it was for this purpose that the world was created and the Jewish people were redeemed from Egypt… it is proper to count the days from the second day of Passover until the day upon which we received the Torah to show our yearning towards that coveted day, as ‘a slave yearns for shade’.”
The Chinuch is therefore positing, that one of the chief messages which is demonstrated by the counting of the Omer is our yearning towards the Yom Tov of Shavuos when we received the Torah on Har Sinai. The question which inevitably arises from this interpretation is that if we are yearning for Shavuos, why would we count the days and the weeks which have passed? Wouldn’t it make more sense for us to count how many days and weeks are left until the day that we are waiting for?
A similar question is often asked about the possuk in Parshas VaYetzei (29, 20) which speaks of the seven years which Yaakov Avinu worked for the hand of our matriarch Rachel. “And they were in his eyes like a mere few days in his love for her.” Now, wouldn’t one assume that those years would have gone by excruciatingly slowly due to “his love for her”?
A number of our great Rabbis have offered the following answer to the latter of the two questions. When a person is faced with the predicament of having to wait a period of time before being able to experience something which he or she is looking forward to, they naturally grow to resent that time, as it serves as nothing more than a barrier between them and their desire. However, if the allotted “waiting” time is utilized for working towards their goal, it becomes infused with meaning. In such cases, each day becomes cherished and the time begins to fly.
When it became evident to Yaakov Avinu that he would have to work for seven years in order to marry Rachel, he realized that Hashem was sending him a message. In order to be ready to enter the union through which the Jewish people would be built, he required seven years of spiritual work. Every day of those seven years thus represented for him the laying of another brick in the spiritual edifice of the Jewish nation. It was this mindset that turned the seven years into a mere “few days.”
Similarly, as we count the days of the Omer, we need to realize that we are on a spiritual journey towards the coveted day of Shavuos. We need to utilize these days as a “boot camp” of sorts, elevating ourselves each day and becoming more worthy of receiving the Torah. I believe that it was Rabbi Yisroel Salanter, the great progenitor of the Mussar movement that suggested that on each day of the counting of the Omer one should work on developing another trait through which the Torah is acquired (see Pirkei Avos Chapter 6, Mishnah 6) and on the last day to review them all.
There are many instances in our lives when we feel stuck and unable to proceed with our plans. We wonder how it is that we are supposed to grow and develop under the conditions that we find ourselves in. At such times we must remind ourselves that Hashem has placed us where we are and that He is obviously asking us for an avodah different from that which we had originally envisioned. We need to learn to cherish such times and not succumb to the temptation of viewing them as empty impediments to our growth.
During these days of the Coronavirus there is nothing wrong with eagerly awaiting its end. It is wreaking havoc on many lives and parnassahs. We yearn for the days when we can go back to life as usual, when we can work, pray, and interact with each other as we used to. However, as believing Jews we must realize that being confined to isolation is not arbitrary, but is rather a message from Heaven. We are being asked to engage in a different avodah. We are being told to somehow utilize this time of shutdown to prepare ourselves for the time of reopening. We are being given a rare opportunity to develop new skills and work on our characters. Let us utilize every one of these days and hopefully the virus will be over before we can even realize how much time has passed.