Counting the Quarantine

At about 9:30pm each evening, I drive my daughters a little nuts. My omer counting app starts buzzing at me, reminding me to count the omer for that evening. We are inevitably in the middle of something else, maybe an episode of Modern Family or a card game. Initially, they wanted me to turn the thing off or make it less aggravating. Yet somewhere after the first week they gave in and now we pause whatever we are doing, I open the app, and we count.

We count in part because the Torah tells us to. From the day after Passover count seven complete weeks. We count because this commandment reminds us at the beginning of each Jewish day that we are blessed to have another. Time is our most precious commodity and the ways we use it speak volumes of who we are choosing to be.

The Rabbis teach: we ought to live as if we are exactly balanced between good and evil, blessing and curse, and that the next thing we do will tip the balance one way or the other. And further, we should imagine this to be true of the whole world, so our next choice will tip all of Creation either to blessing or curse. We should live as if each day, each action, each moment, holds enormous significance.

And yet: we live as if each moment matters little. We watch too much Netflix or put off calling the people we most love or care about in the world. We unproductively worry about what the future may hold and risk spending our days in anxiety or emptiness. We realize that each week or year holds value, but I worry sometimes we forget that each moment counts.

So I urge you to take this time of Omer, and this time of quarantine, as a sacred opportunity. You no longer have to commute to work; your day-to-day routines have been altered, in some cases quite dramatically. All these changes can be an invitation to self-reflection.

First, look at the places of worry and concern in your life.  You cannot stop the worry from arising; but you can control the next thought. Whenever worry arises, especially unproductive worry around which you have no agency, I urge you to immediately bring to mind something for which you are grateful. No need to connect the gratitude to the worry. Appreciate the beauty of the day or a loving interaction or simply the blessing of a good night’s sleep. You will still have worries, but this practice of gratitude will help hold them gently.

Second, take stock of the people you love. Can you be in touch with the people you care about most?  I’ve heard many people arranging zoom calls with family or college friends and deepening relationships. With some of the extra time some you have now, what about writing a letter to someone you love? Can you find a way to express love to the people who matter most in your life?

Third, look at your values. What 2-3 values matter most to you? How do you act on those values? Are there ways you can make good on them now, or create a plan for what you will do as the quarantine lessens? There are many opportunities now to learn and grow during these slowed-down days. Be realistic but also challenge yourself. This isn’t about writing the next great novel or learning to speak Japanese; this is reconnecting with your deepest values and reminding yourself how you want to make good on them.

We have been forced into a different kind of time. Yet God is there to walk with us. It’s easy for each day to blend together and to dream our way through this. I want to suggest following the wisdom of Torah and counting each day with agency, love, and values. Then we can imagine ourselves walking with God and moving the world to good and blessing.

Shabbat Shalom

Rabbi David Booth

Please note: CyberTorah will take a one-week hiatus next week.

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