middot decisiveness mesorah the steady journey

the steady journey

Written by  rabbi russ resnik

art-omercalCounting the Omer is an opportunity to learn decisiveness. This tradition marking the days from Passover to Shavuot (see Lev. 23:10-21) reenacts the journey from bondage in Egypt (Mitzraim in Hebrew, meaning “the narrow place”) to revelation at Mount Sinai.

When we say the blessing on day one, we’ve already decided to go the distance until day 49—which might tempt us to not count the Omer at all. Like most decisions, counting the Omer involves a commitment, the need for follow-through. We live in an age that teaches us to avoid commitment, to keep our options open, and to see what new possibilities might emerge. But once we count Day One, we’ve set our course to get to Day 49. This sort of decisiveness illustrates the commitment it takes to get from bondage and inertia to the place of fresh encounter with Hashem.

We can learn something from looking more closely at what we decide when we decide to take this journey.

First, we decide not to settle down in the status quo. This is an essential part of mussar in general, for mussar is always a path of self-improvement, which requires growth and change. If we get into maintenance mode, we lose mussar. We might grow tired or even bored with the demands of steady self-improvement, but we’ve already decided to pursue it, to leave the Egypt of old habits and routines, and head toward greater revelation of God, so let’s keep going.

Second, we decide to maintain our eagerness. We can decide to take the path of self-improvement . . . and kvetch the whole way. But we count the Omer not just to keep track of the days from Passover to Shavuot, but to show our excitement about getting there. We’re like a bride counting the days until her wedding, or a kid counting the days until his or her next birthday.

Decisiveness of this sort frees us from looking back, second-guessing ourselves, and regretting the past. This, of course, was one of the great failings of our forebears during the Exodus, as they longed for “the leeks and garlic of Egypt.” Decisiveness means realizing the past is past, and counting off the days as we move forward to the next thing God has for us.

Finally, counting the Omer teaches us that decisiveness must be maintained. We’d like to decide once to leave Mitzraim and get to Mount Sinai, but we have to renew that decision each day if we’re going to make it. So it is with many of life’s decisions: decisiveness is the ability to turn, to set a new course with clarity and promptness, but it’s also the ability to stay that course.

This week, as we continue to count the Omer each day, we can deepen our grasp of the middah of decisiveness. With the daily count we declare that we’re moving forward, heading toward something new, and not about to change course. We maintain our focus on preparing ourselves for more of Hashem’s revelation, which means renewing daily the decision to journey from Mitzraim to Sinai, not with grim determination but with joyful anticipation.

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