Wednesday, April 30, 2014


Rabbi Doniel Staum, LMSW
Rabbi, Kehillat New Hempstead
Rebbe/Guidance Counselor – ASHAR/ Yeshiva Bais Hachinuch


          Although it was more than two decades ago, I would venture to think that anyone who was a classmate of mine when I was in second grade, remembers the time that “Staum got stuck in his chair.”
Our second grade classroom was full of little chairs tailored for little second graders. The wooden chairs had a gap between the chair and the back, and we loved to climb into that gap and fasten the chair snug against our waists. Then we would walk around the room with the chair hanging from our bodies, drumming on the cushion of the chair.
I too occasionally engaged in the fun of transforming my chair into a drum until that fateful afternoon. One day during an afternoon break, I climbed into the chair’s gap and hoisted it around my waist. I proceeded to join my fellow chair-drummers, walking around the room. A few moments later the alarm went out “She’s coming!” Our teacher was returning to call the class to attention. I and my fellow chair-drummers walked quickly back to our places and began pulling ourselves out of our chairs. The only problem was that unlike everyone else I was stuck. I simply could not get myself out of the chair. I panicked and told some of my friends, who, in turn, told the teacher. After a few more futile attempts the bewildered teacher sent a student to summon the principal. 
          Although it seems humorous now, it was quite traumatic for me back then. The principal arrived and surveyed the situation. After seeing the problem, I am sure he turned around to laugh. Then he called the resident expert on all such matters, i.e. the chief janitor. As the janitor approached I was filled with dread as I overheard some classmates murmuring that the janitor would have no choice except to saw the chair apart, with me in it. But the janitor’s prognosis was otherwise. Suffice it to say that thankfully the problem was resolved with no damage, other than a bit of a second grader’s pride.
          For years, my classmates would remind me of the incident and thank me for the extra recess they enjoyed that day. You can bet that afterwards I no longer climbed into chairs. I was advised to play baseball or basketball instead.

          “You shall count for yourselves – from the morrow of the rest day, from the day when you bring the Omer of the waving – seven weeks they shall be complete. Until the morrow of the seventh week you shall count, fifty days; and you shall offer a new meal-offering to G-d.”[1] This is the mitzvah of Sefiras haOmer- the count of the Omer, i.e. the forty-nine day verbal count of the days between the second night Pesach and the holiday of Shavuos. The gemara[2] derives from the words of the pasuk, “You shall count for yourselves”, שתהא ספירה לכל אחד ואחד – there must be a count for every individual.
          Some halachic authorities explain that the gemara’s exegesis is coming to inform that the principle of שומע כעונה (“hearing is like answering”)[3] doesn’t apply in regards to the counting the Omer.[4] Since the law states that every individual must count, one cannot fulfill his obligation by hearing someone else’s recitation.
          HaRav Nissan Alpert zt’l offered a novel explanation of the gemara’s statement. He explains that when the Torah demands an individual count, it does not merely mean that every person must himself/herself recite the words of the counting. It is also a call for every person to count himself, in other words, to make himself count! The counting of the Omer must be a personal experience, and therefore, Reuven cannot recite it for Shimon and Shimon cannot recite it for Reuven.  
          The counting of the Omer involves a count of one’s life - his days, weeks, months, and years. It reminds a person of the fleeting passage of time. The message of Sefiras haOmer is - “if one does not master time, time will master him.”
          Rabbi Alpert continues that on the first day of Pesach, Klal Yisroel physically left Egypt en masse. As soon as they traversed the physical confines of the country of their servitude they became free men. The greatest symbol of freedom is personal control and the ability to manage one’s time. Many commentators explain that the blessing recited each morning, thanking G-d שלא עשני עבד- that He did not make me a slave”, is a blessing of gratitude for our ability to decide how to use our time. A slave’s life is dictated by his master, and how he utilizes his time is beyond his purview.
It is for this reason that the counting of the Omer commences on the day after the first day of Pesach. Counting the Omer symbolizes our ability to raise ourselves to greater heights. That ability was only granted to us after the physical exodus was complete.
The Torah uses two indicators of when the Omer count begins: “From the morrow of the rest day” and “From the day when you bring the Omer of the waving”. Why do we count from “the Omer” and not “from the morrow of the rest day” (e.g. why do we say “Today is the third day of the Omer” and not “Today is the third day from the morrow of the rest day”)?
Rabbi Alpert explains that time is the greatest gift one possesses. Our mastery of time is symbolized by bringing the Omer-offering on the Altar. The Omer was brought from the first barley growths of that season. Its offering initiated the count that culminated with the holiday of Shavuos. On Shavuos the first wheat-growths of the season were used for the special offering of the Shtei halechem (two loaves of bread). The Omer count symbolizes our desire to transform random days into collective weeks and our ability to convert mundane hours into holy units of time. It is time utilized for introspection and spiritual growth.
The extent of one’s celebration on the holiday of Shavuos is wholly contingent on how much preparation one has expended. Therefore, the name of the holiday is “Shavuos- weeks” referring to the seven weeks that are counted, preceding the holiday.  

            I cannot vouch for the authenticity of the following letter, but its poignancy is clear:

This was written by an 83-year-old woman to her friend:

Dear Bertha,
I'm reading more and dusting less. I'm sitting in the yard and admiring the view without fussing about the weeds in the garden. I'm spending more time with my family and friends and less time working.
Whenever possible, life should be a pattern of experiences to savor, not to endure. I'm trying to recognize these moments now and cherish them.
I'm not "saving" anything; we use our good china and crystal for every special event such as losing a pound, getting the sink unstopped, or the first Amaryllis blossom.
I wear my good blazer to the market. My theory is if I look prosperous, I can shell out $28.49 for one small bag of groceries. I'm not saving my good perfume for special parties, but wearing it for clerks in the hardware store and tellers at the bank.
"Someday" and "one of these days" are losing their grip on my vocabulary. If it's worth seeing or hearing or doing, I want to see and hear and do it now!
I'm not sure what others would've done had they known they wouldn't be here for the tomorrow that we all take for granted. I think they would have called family members and a few close friends. They might have called a few former friends to apologize and mend fences for past squabbles. I like to think they would have gone out for a Chinese dinner or for whatever their favorite food was. I'm guessing; I'll never know.
It's those little things left undone that would make me angry if I knew my hours were limited. Angry, because I hadn't written certain letters that I intended to write one of these days. Angry and sorry, that I didn't tell my husband and parents often enough how much I truly love them.
 I'm trying very hard not to put off, hold back, or save anything that would add laughter and luster to our lives. And every morning when I open my eyes, tell myself that it is special.
Life may not be the party we hoped for, but while we are here we might as well dance.

          So often life seems to stagnate and our days become a blur of mundane triteness. We get stuck in our proverbial chairs and can’t get past our present state of living, despite having lofty dreams and aspirations. The process of inertia takes its toll and, before we know it, days become wasted weeks and weeks become wasted years.
          The counting of the Omer comes to “seize us by the collar.” It encourages us to wiggle out of chairs by any means necessary in order to seek the fulfillment in our lives that we truly desire.
          In the words of an American actor who was killed in a car accident before his twenty-fifth birthday: “Dream as if you'll live forever; live as if you'll die today”.

“You shall count for yourselves…
seven weeks they shall be complete”

[1] Vayikra 23:15-16
[2] Menachos 65b
[3]שומע כעונה  is applicable to some mitzvos and blessings that must be verbalized.  One can fulfill his obligation by hearing another person’s recitation if both he and the one reciting have in mind to help the listener fulfill his obligation through the declaration. This law applies most notably to Kiddush and Megillah reading.
[4] See Biur Halacha (489:1) 


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