36 Days, 36 Years, and Ruptured Counting

I am sitting in the liminal moments, bein ha’sh-mashot (literally, between the suns)—the window between day and night—as we bid farewell to the 35th day of the Omer but, where I am, cannot yet count the 36th day. And I have just read the terrible news about an old friend, a fellow rabbi with whom I studied in Jerusalem, whose younger brother just died suddenly, in the day that has just ended, at the age of 36. His life has been cut short at the age that is double-life (18=chai), just before he or anyone who knew him or loved him would be counting the 36th day of this liminal time between sacred occasions, between the holidays of Pesach and Shavuot.

The deceased’s brother and other immediate relatives are now in their own liminal moment known as aninut, the period between learning of the death of a next-of-kin and fulfilling the mitzvah of k’vod hameit (honoring the dead) with a speedy and proper burial. During this time, those who are responsible for burying their loved one are exempt from all positive commandments. They perform no sacred rituals or deeds, focusing only on the one, new responsibility that has befallen them.

My friend, therefore, will not be counting the 36th Day of the Omer tonight. His brother’s life has ended at age 36. His own counting is cut short just before reaching that number. While my friend will still make it to Sinai in 2 weeks (technically cutting short the 30-day period of mourning, yet another interruption), his arrival there will be under severely compromised emotional circumstances. The journey will not feel complete without his brother, just as his ritual counting of all 49 days will not be complete. Like the garment he will soon tear as an outward sign of the irreparable rupture in his life, so too, his counting of this season is torn asunder, never to be completed, never even reaching the number 36 in days that his brother barely achieved in years.

And so, as I feel tremendous sadness for my friend and his family, I turn towards the night, the darkness. And I accept humbly my own opportunity and responsibility to count. I count for those ripped from us in untimely fashion and I count for those still with us but whose attention has been turned to more pressing matters, to matters of life and death. I count for life on this day that signifies double life. And I dedicate tonight’s counting to my friend who will not count, who is grieving, who is preparing to fully say farewell to his brother and begin the grueling process of mourning. I’m counting for you, my friend.

Hin’ni muchan um’zuman l’kayem mitzvat aseih shel s’firat ha’omer k’mo she’katuv batorah…
Here I am, ready and prepared to fulfill the positive commandment of counting the Omer as it is written in the Torah…


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