Posted by: R Jonathan Gewirtz | May 18, 2016

At the Crossroads

Between Pesach and Shavuos, we are in a state of growth.  We study Pirkei Avos, we think about how we can rectify the mistakes of R’ Akiva’s students, and we take the steps to elevate ourselves towards Kabolas HaTorah.  Well, it would be a good idea, at least.

It is said that Pesach and Shavuos are really one long holiday, one leading into the other, and the forty-nine days in between symbolize the rise we needed as a nation to go from deep levels of impurity to holiness.  Yes, it is a day for every step, to teach us that one does not jump from the depths to great heights.  If he did, it would likely have the effect of a bungee jumper, where he would be at the extent of his greatness for but an instant, before being pulled back to where he was before.

So if this is a holiday of building up, and every day we’re supposed to do a little more, why don’t we celebrate it at the end, when we’re finished?  Why should the time of Sefira be considered part of it?  If you think about the fact that Klal Yisrael in Egypt was at the forty-ninth level of impurity, then it is only at Shavuos when we begin to grow in our level of purity.  That means that Shavuos should be the beginning of our holiday.

The truth is, though, that we don’t wait until we are on that side of the scale.  To a Jew, every day is a crossroads.  In fact, every minute is a crossroads.  We are faced with decisions of what to do or not to do, and it is up to us to decide whether we’re moving in the right direction.

R’ Elchanan Wasserman HY”D met a former classmate who had become a successful lawyer.  The well-dressed fellow chided, “Elchanan, you had a better head than me.  If you had gone into law you could have been even more successful than I.  It’s such a shame you missed that opportunity to enjoy the wonderful life that I lead.”

R’ Elchonon calmly responded, “Let me ask you.  If you had to take a train, and at the station you found two options:  One train had bare, wooden seats, poor heating, and drafty windows, while the other was luxurious, with plush upholstered seats, cozy heaters, and a dining car that could provide delicious food and drink, which would you take?”

“Why,” said the wealthy lawyer, “the second train, of course!”

“Ah,” said R’ Elchonon, “In truth, the choice of train depends on where you wish to go.”

Each day and each moment in our lives provides us the opportunity to ask, “Am I heading towards Shavuos and Matan Torah, or am I heading back to Egypt?”  At those moments, we are at a crossroads.  We can still make a turn and get headed the right way.  The trip might take a little longer than if we hadn’t detoured, but it’s understandable that when you’re on the road, even on the road of life, things happen.

Now, no one in his right mind would plan to do this and say, “I am driving from New York to Florida, for a week’s vacation.  Maybe I’ll make a little detour to the Grand Canyon.”  Well, unless he was REALLY bad at Geography.  The reason he wouldn’t do that is because the trip would be over before he could reach his destination and the “side trip” would take up all of his time.  Not only that, but there’s no way of knowing if he’d make it to his destination, or even back home again during vacation, because his time might be up before he reached it.

However, if he was on a reasonable course and at a certain point he realized that he was heading the wrong direction, he wouldn’t give up, but would quickly make a U-turn and head the right way.  Sometimes, though, the next exit isn’t for 50 miles and we are sickened by every bit of it knowing that we are going further from where we want to be and making it that much harder to get there.

Sefira teaches us that every day can be a crossroads.  We celebrate the fact that we have the chance to make our U-turn at any point, today if we want, at this very minute, and there are road signs pointing the way for us.  On this journey we’ve got GPS, maps, traveler reviews, and many more tools to guide us, but there’s one big advantage that we have over the traveler.

We don’t have to wonder when we will get there, because Shavuos comes to us.  We know exactly how much time we have left in this part of the trip and how much time we have to get back on the right track.  In fact, we’re counting down the days.

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