When I haven’t stepped on the court in a long time, from the moment I pickup a basketball, I am on fire. I cannot miss. Figuratively speaking that is. (My shooting percentage is not 100%). But I feel like I cannot miss.
After a long layoff, with little warm-up, I am in the flow of the game. The first few times this happened, I thought I had magically unlocked some untapped potential or corrected my shaky shooting form during my sabbatical.
However, each time, my fantasies were quickly dashed. A little later that day or the next time I picked up a ball, I was trash, over-thinking everything and playing horribly.
When my mind is clear, my body takes over. Years of playing takes over. I’m just playing, not thinking. Of course, it never lasts. I miss a couple shots and decide I need to tweak my form. I decide what post move to make instead of just making the move and it ends in a turnover.
That first game back is a gift of grace. It is the absolute greatest ratio of payoff to work-put-in. It’s also completely unsustainable and unrealistic baseline for where I will be the next day. To ever reach that level again, requires repetition, hard work, and consistency over time.
That first game back is Passover: a gift. And every other day of training and practice afterwards is the Omer.
I’ll let my teacher, Rabbi Ebn Leader explain how the practice of the Omer developed from an understanding of Pesach (Passover) and Shavuot and the time between them. He first explains why Passover is considered an act of grace.
In some of the classic rabbinic midrashim and in the later mystical tradition, the redemption of Pesah is neither deserved nor were we prepared for it (see for example Shir HaShirim Rabbah on verses 2:2 and 2:8). This idea is already expressed to some extent in the biblical narrative itself. Wandering through the desert the people still preserve their slave mentality, and repeatedly express the desire to return to Egypt. God and Moshe can take the people out of Egypt in one night, but it is clear that even to the end of the Torah they have not succeeded in taking Egypt out of the people.
Pesah thus represents a moment of redemption, which then needs to be reclaimed through hard work and an often painful process. This dynamic is preserved in the mystical tradition as the orientation of the spiritual practice of Pesah and the counting of the Omer. On Pesah, we “skip” (pasah) all the necessary preliminaries and break out of bondage into freedom. But then, the next day when we come down from the “high,” we begin doing the work we had skipped of truly establishing freedom in our souls. Only as people who own their freedom and independence can we be God’s partner to the covenant of Torah entered mutually on Shavu’ot. We engage in this work of preparation during the period of counting the Omer.
So how are we supposed to feel about the moments of grace that help us fly so high when we know they are at that moment unsustainable and not immediately replicable? I used to feel anger and frustration when I started so strong and be unable to sustain it. But after experiencing this cycle over and over, I developed gratitude for those moments of grace. Even when I found myself clinging and unable to let go for a moment, I would come out of it to remember that those moments are just a window into what is possible and an invitation to begin the work back to that place.
May the window be opened for all of us this Passover and may we have the strength to make our way back.