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Jewishly speaking, we’re in the thick of doing the numbers. As I write these words, we’re heading into the finale of Passover. The Haggadah provided us with the wonderful who Knows One Song — the numbers are powerful shorthand for core ideas that we pass along. A six-digit figure that morphs along at blazing speed as you read this — somewhere between 550,000 and 600,000 — is shorthand for the Angel of Death; not slaying the butcher who is featured in Had Gadya, no — that’s the mounting US death toll from a plague not mentioned in the Seder. Who can possibly know how to wrestle with this number? Undoubtedly, some will run from the number as quickly as possible, as in too much, can’t do it. Understandable. I suspect that part of the journey forward, sooner or later, an unflinching reckoning will be unavoidable and essential.
Lighter note — Numbers considered in a more hopeful tone: there’s a box full of details that will guide us back into our sacred space at Sha’arey Israel — properly spaced seating capacity. We’re working on it, and, as the traditional words go: bim’heira v’yameinu, v’nomar amen — speedily in our day, and let us say Amen!
A few years ago, we started to count the omer on Fridays at Just Tap’d and after Pesach I’m looking forward to some outdoor omer counting with friends (urgent plug: GET THE SHOT, PLEASE!) while enjoying one of many excellent beverages available for purchase. The idea began on a whim, something catchy to connect the counting of the omer with the joy of hanging out with each other. Just those words — hanging out with each other — bring up a flood of feelings about the incredible challenging year that has passed. It has exacted a terrible toll; it is not over. But people are venturing back into (judiciously, I hope) the world.
It should be clear that this present into the future — is not exactly the one which closed down in 2020. There are changes with which people must grapple in many aspects of our lives. I personally believe that there are positive, beneficial outcomes that are part of the emerging reality. So, what does it mean to take a measure? Of course, there are numbers, technical discussions for folks with expertise in doing the numbers. But the title of this piece is also about resilience. Change — it might be subtle or drastic, gradual or sudden — is a part of life. It always has been. It’s not shutting down change or outrunning it — those are efforts which will (sooner or later) fail. It’s about how we adjust, how we grow into the changes which shape our lives.
This understanding makes the omer — the journey between Passover and Shavuot — much more interesting than whatever number is announced on a particular evening during the next six weeks.
The Rabbis reframed Shavuot into a spiritual engagement with receiving Torah. And the omer has also been refashioned into a corridor for taking measure and for preparation to celebrate what Torah means to each of us in our lives.
Metaphorically speaking (and that is certainly what I do ), so many numbers race by the ‘margin beneath our screens’ — marketplace: what’s up, what’s down, world of sports: who won, who lost, science: how many vaccinated, percentages of efficacy, etc., etc… all the digits and bits that symbolize the lives we lead, what my Buddhist teachers call the Ten Thousand Joys and Sorrows.
So, the numbers are about what it means for us – personally, communally, globally —what we decide to do with it all.