Counting, a Message from Paul Bernstein, CEO

“Flow is that elusive state of absorption in a meaningful challenge or a momentary bond, where your sense of time, place and self melts away. During the early days of the pandemic, the best predictor of well-being wasn’t optimism or mindfulness—it was flow. People who became more immersed in their projects managed to avoid languishing and maintained their prepandemic happiness. … We now know that the most important factor in daily joy and motivation is a sense of progress.” -Adam Grant

Like many who read Adam Grant’s article on languishing in the New York Times (“There’s a Name for the Blah You’re Feeling: It’s Called Languishing”), I completely related to his message. Time has felt so open-ended in the past year, none of us knowing when the pandemic will “end” and if such a thing is even possible.

This stands in contrast to Sefirat HaOmer, the counting of the 49 days between Passover and Shavuot. When we start counting on the night of the second seder, we know exactly when our counting will end. We even have days like today, Lag BaOmer, when the counting cycle gives us a mini-holiday--a small reprieve from the semi-mourning state that defines the rest of the Omer period.

When we count the Omer each night, traditionally we call out not only the exact number of days—“Today is the 33rd day of the Omer” —but also the weeks—“which is four weeks and five days.” We count in two ways, a rabbinic compromise to fulfill both mitzvot described in Leviticus 23:15-16: first to count seven weeks, then to count 50 days. It is almost as if we just can’t count enough!

Counting time gives us that motivating sense of progress; just ask any child who counts down the days until a birthday or perhaps even until the last day of school (gasp!). When we count “down” we increase our excitement and anticipation daily. Is this different from counting “up,” as we do with the Omer?

Perhaps the message of today’s festivities, bonfires, bows and arrows and all, is to keep track of our progress. It is helpful to mark our transitions, not only because of where they point to on a “finish line,” but also due to the positive impact that counting has on our own sense of joy and motivation. In that spirit, and especially during this time when we all yearn for an “end date” for the challenges of Covid-19, I want to wish you a very happy Lag BaOmer. May your counting bring you a sense of peace and progress.