birthday, birthdays, Counting the Omer, Shavuot

The Many Meanings of 49

I’m turning 49 this week.

It’s certainly been a strange few months for the world and it’s hard to feel festive and joyous with so many people suffering both physically and economically. It’s hard, as well, to think of celebrating when we are just starting to peek out from our homes and slowly emerge from our cocoon.

And of course, the passage of time is always unsettling. Where have the years gone? Have I done enough with myself in these 49 years? What will the years ahead bring? On and on the mind spins.

Pushing all of that aside, I’ve chosen to focus right now on gratitude. And on the magic of 7 and 49.

I love that I’m reaching 49 right at the end of the counting of the Omer, as we are about to reach the 49th and final day of counting before Shavuot.

What does it mean to count the Omer? From the second night of Pesach until the day before Shavuot, we count every night, a mitzvah called Sefirat HaOmer. For years now, my husband and kids have made it a mission to get through every single night of counting – and then they go out to a celebratory dinner at the end. (Yes, I could be counting as well but I just never get around to doing it. But, fortunately, I’m usually included in the dinner anyway!) The Torah tells us that we are supposed to count 7 complete weeks during this time from Pesach to Shavuot – and of course 7 times 7 leads us to 49.

Why do we count these 7 Shabbatot in anticipation of Shavuot? At Pesach, Hashem took us out of Egypt and led us on the path to be a free people; at Shavuot, we received the Torah. We count this 7×7 to show our excitement at the anticipation that we will soon receive the Torah. During this time, we are also supposed to refine and redefine ourselves. We went from being slaves in Egypt to being ready to receive the Torah in these 49 days – that’s a lot of spiritual cleansing and changing in a very short amount of time. So, we, too, can take this time as an opportunity to mark off the days, and to think of ways that we can grow and change in those 7×7 weeks.

These 49 days are an opportunity. They are a chance to be mindful; to think of our spiritual life; to develop new habits and new ways of thinking. What a beautiful time to turn 49 and to, hopefully, embrace some of these ideas as well.

In addition, if we break the 49 down into its 7×7, we see many ways that 7 is a holy number in Judaism. Creation took 7 days and on the 7th day, Hashem rested; every 7 years there is a Shmitta and after 49, Yovel; the Menorah in the Temple had 7 branches; there are 7 days in the Shiva mourning period; we celebrate a newly married couple over 7 days; and there are 7 aliyot to the Torah each week.

And then, as I finished thinking about all of these meanings for 7 and 49, I realized that I live with 7 people. These 7 men are the foundation of my life and the building blocks of my future. Nothing is divisible by 49, nothing can break into the 49, except for 7. And I am so blessed by 7.

What a joy to be turning 49. What a special number to have reached.

Here is to a beautiful year ahead.

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