Where Are We Going, What Are We Doing?

May 7, 2013
BY Yisrael Motzen

A few years ago, I took a trip to Phoenix. The highlight was a day-long outing to the Grand Canyon.

If you have been there, you know how absolutely breathtaking the first sight of the Grand Canyon is. After looking out into the canyon for quite some time, I decided to engage in one of my favorite activities: people watching.

I watched tourists get out of their cars or buses and make their way to the observation deck. I began to notice that there were two distinct types of tourists. There was one group of tourists who would look out into the canyon, totally lost in thought and in the moment, just taking it all in. I doubt this group even brought cameras along with them. And then there was a second group, who, as they made their way to the observation deck, before even looking at the view, took out their cameras and began snapping away — picture after picture without even experiencing the great sight. The second group seemed more concerned about the pictures they would have when they got back home than enjoying the grandeur of the sight before them.

Looking back on this memory, I believe it to be an apt parable for life. So often, life can be very much like the experience of the second group of tourists. We are constantly running to the next destination, hurrying to drop our children off at school, trying to get our work done as quickly as possible, thinking about our next task or goal. We focus on where we are going. By doing so, we often miss out on the present.

Our Sages teach us that this is not the ideal approach. Next week, we will celebrate the holiday of Shavuot, commemorating the giving of the Torah at Mount Sinai. The days leading up to the holiday of Shavuot are known as Sefirat Haomer, the Counting of the Omer. We are counting toward the most momentous occasion in Jewish history, and even world history: the revelation of God to mankind at Mount Sinai. And just like the Jews counted from their Exodus to the moment they stood at Sinai, we too count the Sefirat Haomer, one day at a time, up to the holiday of Shavuot. Our Sages instituted a very unique way to count the Omer. We do not say how many days are left until Shavuot. Rather we say, “Today is [X] days of the Omer.” We count the present date. Perhaps this is done to remind us of what we are doing, to awaken us to the present and not to be blindsided by the celebration of Shavuot toward which we are marching.

As we count the remaining days to Shavuot, let’s think about the present and what we are doing. Let’s savor the moments spent together with our children when we take them to school. Let’s savor our time with a spouse or a friend and even our time at work accomplishing whatever it is that we do. Let’s learn the message of the Omer, and not only focus on the great places we are going, but also appreciate the richness and magic of the present, of what we are doing.
Rabbi Yisrael Motzen is the spiritual leader of Ner Tamid Congregation.