My Son Ariel is preparing for his Bar Mitzwah, for his big day, in about 1 , 1 1/2 year from now, and he is counting down the days until his Shabbat will arrive.
I know students who have counted down the days to their Bar Mitzvah for three years and more.
As a teenager, I used to build and fly model rockets!
Looking back, it is hard to know which was more fun,
seeing the rocket arch up into the clear blue sky or
watching it drift slowly back down to earth on a parachute!
whether a model rocket
or a Space Shuttle,
begins with a countdown.
Just like a Bar Mitzvah boy counts down the days!
Many people don’t realize that lots of things are happening before the countdown reaches the end.
The seconds that lead up to a launch are not wasted seconds.
Every minute and every second has an important role to play!
We are used to thinking of counting as a way to get from one place to another.
We count miles on a trip,
we count minutes to the end of a boring lecture.
We count our change after we make a purchase.
In some countries, at the beginning of every decade, we count the population.
What we want to know is what we have at the end of our counting.
In this week’s Parsha, there is also a lot of counting,
but the issue is not the totals we have at the end,
but the manner in which we count.
The Torah indicates that to count the people,
each person would bring a half shekel coin to his tribal leader.
When the coins were counted, one would also know how many people made a contribution.
Rich people could not bring more money to the count,
and poor people could not bring less.
In this count, everyone was equal.
But even more than being equal,
every Jew counted in the desert was also made to feel individually important.
They were not just heads that were counted,
they were people, human beings,
and each one was unique in their count and in their contribution to the community.
The Torah wants us to know that,
like every second in a countdown to a launch,
each person is important in his or her place.
Soon we will observe the festival of Shavuot.
It is the holiday that commemorates the giving of the Law at Mt. Sinai.
It marks the conclusion of the liberation of our people from Egyptian slavery.
On Pesach we celebrate our freedom from the slave pits of Egypt.
At the end of Pesach, we remember the miracle that occurred at the Red Sea.
Finally, on Shavuot, we recognize that true freedom means living by the Law.
And our Law, the Torah, is given to us by G-d.
But we did not go from slavery to freedom under the law in just a few days.
There are seven weeks that separate the two festivals.
- One cannot be free until one has the law.
- One cannot observe the law if one is not free.
Judaism has us count the days,
all forty nine of them,
one at a time,
as we wait with excitement for the next holiday.
Counting the Omer,
the days between Pesach and Shavuot,
is not just another countdown.
Each day is identified not only by what day it is since Pesach,
but by what week it is as well.
The rules of counting the Omer state that if, for any reason, you forget to count one day,
the entire count is forfeited.
Each day is important in the count, and we cannot leave any one day out.
Each day has its unique gift to give us as we make the passage from freedom to law.
There are some important lessons that we can learn from the counting of people and the counting of days.
First of all,
we have to remember not to see those around us as just part of a crowd.
Each person is an individual, with parents who love him,
who has hopes and dreams that are very similar to our hopes and dreams.
I read a story recently about three Israeli Rabbis who were sent to a meat packing plant in Argentina to supervise the Kashrut of the plant.
One day, a terrible accident occurred and all three were trapped inside the large walk-in freezer.
It was near closing time, and soon everyone in the plant would be going home. They would never survive the night in the freezer.
Outside, the foreman of the plant was going through the plant to make sure everyone had gone home.
Convinced the plant was empty;
he locked the door and headed for the gate.
The security guard at the gate was very upset.
“Are you sure everyone is out of the plant?” he asked.
The foreman shrugged and went back for a second look.
All was empty.
Again the security guard confronted the foreman,
“Please look again”.
So the foreman went and looked again.
No one was there.
For a third time the security guard stood his ground.
" You have to check to make sure you have not locked anyone inside the plant."
For a third time the foreman went back and three times he found nothing.
Finally, the foreman said to the security guard,
“If you think there is someone in the plant, than come with me and see for yourself.”
The two of them walked through the plant.
The security guard looked in all the corners and under all the heavy machinery.
Finally he came to the freezer where the foreman had never looked.
Opening the door, they found the rabbis barely clinging to life.
After the ambulance had taken them away, the foreman asked the security guard how he knew that someone was still in the plant.
The security guard said,
“These three rabbis never failed to say hello to me every morning when they came to work, and they would day good-night to me every day when they left.
If I was not at my post, they would wait for my return or send me their words of greeting. When they did not stop to see me this evening, I just knew something was wrong.”
This is the power of not taking people for granted.
The three rabbis were just being kind, and their kindness to a security guard saved their lives.
Each person we meet,
no matter who they are,
how much money they have,
no matter where they come from
or how old they are,
everyone has something to teach us and we need to pay attention.
Every act of kindness we perform for someone else, can send waves of life throughout all of creation, and may even come back to us in ways we never dreamed.
And it is not just people, but days as well.
Each day in our life is important.
Parshat Bamidbar is teaching us today to take our counting seriously.
There is more to a calendar than a list of days,
behind the numbers are hopes and fears
and the time to accomplish great and wonderful things.
Bamidbar is about counting, counting coins,
counting days until the arrival at the Promised Land.
We too learn to count on our friends, to make out time
count and be someone in the community who can be counted on.
May G-d teach us to number our days so we may attain a heart of wisdom as we say ...
AMEN AND.....SHABBAT SHALOM