May 16, 2002
Make it Count
Have you ever noticed yourself counting the time leading up to an important moment in your life -- the years before a bar mitzvah or golden celebration, the months before a new baby is born, the weeks before a wedding or graduation or even the days before a special birthday?
How natural it is that we count time as we wait, eager with anticipation, excitement and expectation that the milestone we are about to reach will be an important and meaningful one. Who will be there? What will we wear? How will we spend the time? What will we do afterward?
As the clock clicks on, our anticipation grows and our preparations intensify -- until the preparations are complete and the big day finally arrives. All the plans in the world fall by the wayside as we bask in the emotion and spirit of the day.
For the past 50 days, since Passover, we Jews have counted day by day -- one, two, three ... 10, 11, 20, 21 ... 35, 36 ... 49 -- until this week's culmination on the 50th day on which we celebrate Shavuot, the day to which we attribute the revelation of God's presence atop Mt. Sinai. As we count each day, I could not help but wonder how it is that the occasion of revelation must surely have been charged with emotions, filled with awe and anticipated arrival. And, in the general scheme of life's events and milestones, what must that day have been like for our ancestors in the desert? What was the anticipation and expectation that accompanied them as they sat at the bottom of the mountain, knowing that something really big was happening?
The Torah itself gives us insight into the emotions that our ancestors surely felt in the moments of their encampment at Sinai. After three long months of endless wandering through the desert, the Israelites approach the mountain and set up camp. They wash their clothes, take measures to purify themselves and remain pure, and husband and wife remained separate for three days -- all as they counted the moments, waiting for the arrival of their big moment. And, on the third day, surrounded by the tremendous combination of thunder, lightning, fire and smoke, God spoke for the first time. So describes the Torah: "The entire people saw the thunder and flames, the sound of the shofar and the smoking mountain; the people saw and trembled and stood at a distance. They said to Moses, 'You speak to us and we will listen; let God not speak to us lest we die.'"
So great was the experience of revelation that although thunder is usually an invisible sound, the nation was able to transcend the usual limitations of the human body and could actually see the thunder. Just as we are rendered speechless at intensely emotional moments of our lives, so too were our ancestors rendered speechless by the experience at Sinai. The moment is so intense that the people could not possibly imagine feeling any more fiercely than they are -- and so they step away, looking for a way to be present in the moment by hearing what Moses has to say, but also recognizing the acute awe of the experience they are living.
But, God's revelation is not limited to the discussion of what happened atop Mt. Sinai, for God continues to reveal God's self in new ways each and every day. The excitement and anticipation need not be limited to special birthdays, b'nai mitzvah, weddings or other occasions that are too few and far between.
Each new day is ours to celebrate the gifts that God has given us. The dawning of the new day, the rising of the sun, the faces of children, our interactions with our colleagues, friends or loved ones -- each new experience is a precious milestone, a moment of revelation in which we can come to know God and what God wants for us. "This is the day that God has made, rejoice and be happy in it!" May we each learn to count our days, greeting each one with eager anticipation. In so doing, may we all come make our days count.