Clal Counts Up

At Clal, we count up. That is not as simple as it sounds, especially in a world where most people count down,

especially to the most momentous occasions. We count down as the ball drops in Times Square to welcome in the new year. We count down, waiting for a rocket to lift off into space. We count down the days to our birthdays. That is just the kind of culture we are in general, but not so much at Clal. And that is no accident.

When you count down, there is no place left to go once you hit zero. Yes, there are negative integers, but that is not how most of us count. For most of us, zero is zero — there ain’t no more. But that is not the case when you count up. When you count up, there is always more.
To explain what I mean, allow me to share a story of a time I spent in Haiti some 14 years ago following the devastating earthquake there. I hear the same four-word expression over and over — an expression that some describe as the national motto — Dèyè mòngen mòn. Beyond mountains, there are mountains. It’s an expression that can depress you or inspire you, and more often than not, it is up to us which it does.
The expression suggests that even as you make it to the summit of a mountain, you will see that there are even higher summits ahead. In fact, there is even a term for that in climbing. It’s called a “false peak,” and it can be terribly depressing, making you feel that you have done all that work to “get to the top,” and it is not the top at all! But that is not the only possibility.
Having reached that same “false peak,” you can realize that it is not “false” at all; it is just not final. It is a reality that you have really achieved and can truly celebrate. It is just not the final peak. In fact, part of the celebration can be that in achieving one peak, whole new worlds — worlds previously unseen and unknown — now open before you. When you count up, that is how you see things. You celebrate all that you have gotten up to and know that there is still more ahead. Neither the world nor our achievements are zero-sum.
But Haiti is not the only place that inspires the art of counting up. In fact, it’s a wisdom built into the current season in the Jewish calendar—the season in which we “count the Omer.” This is the period between Passover and Shavuot when we count the days from the former—the holiday of liberation—to the latter—the holiday of revelation.
In fact, one could even understand that revelation is the culmination of the liberation process — that the Israelites were only liberated in order to receive the Torah and live their lives according to it. If ever there was something for which we would count down to, this would be it, and yet we don’t count down to revelation, we count up to it. That is pretty powerful.
As we approach the celebration of revelation — what could easily be thought of as the be-all and end-all of the great Exodus narrative — we count in a way that both invites us to celebrate that moment — on day 50 — and also suggests that there will still be days, 51, 52, 53, etc. As huge a deal as the experience of receiving the Torah is, as defining as that experience and that text is, by counting up to it and not down to it, we are also reminded that there will always be more — more peaks, more Torah, more opportunities — just more. That is the mindset created by choosing to count up rather than down, and that is how we count at Clal.
Counting up invites us to at least four intellectual/spiritual/psychological postures that can animate us, not only in Haiti and not only for the 7 weeks between Passover and Shavuot, but all year round and in most everything we do.
Counting up invites us to remember that people and things are rarely as they first appear to us. There is almost always more to everyone and everything than first meets our eye. Imagine engaging with them accordingly.
Counting up reminds us that as powerful as any moment or situation may be, there is always more. There are worlds ahead, for sure, even/especially when we are not at all sure what they are.
Counting up cultivates our capacity for curiosity. We really don’t know what we don’t yet know, and in knowing that, our ongoing curiosity is always rewarded.
Counting up allows us to both celebrate each summit we achieve without settling for that summit as all that we will achieve. After all, there are mountains after mountains, and days after Shavuot. Counting up is a way of truly enjoying the day on which we summit and also celebrating that we have so much more yet to achieve.
Counting up nurtures our ability to strive, then to celebrate, and to both without settling. That is how Clal counts and how we help others to count as well. Not a bad way to go, and one available to all of us.
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