It shall be unto you a sabbath of solemn rest, and you shall afflict your souls; in the ninth day of the month at evening, from evening unto evening, shall you keep your sabbath. (Vayikra 23:32)
Rav Moshe Feinstein asks “in general, we have a rule that we are not supposed to add on to mitzvos, as we say in Parshas V’aeschanan ‘Do not add to or detract from the mitzvos.’ Yet, for some reason, when it comes to Yom Kippur (and also Shabbos), we find that we are commanded to add time to the mitzvah. Why is this so?”
In general, mitzvos are there for us to observe and they grant us a level of holiness which is precisely needed. There are other situations that the mitzvah demands of us a certain kind of mindset. That mindset cannot be accomplished without proper preparation. This is similar to a professional athlete: Though he is proficient, healthy, and knows how to use his body, it is still necessary for him to “warm up” before each game. Rav Moshe explains that on the spiritual plain, also, it may be necessary for us to prepare ourselves in order to maximize the event. We are not actually adding on to the mitzvah by adding time; we are attaching ourselves to the mitzvah by preparing for it properly.
The seforim hakedoshim tell us that sefiras ha’omer is a time of preparation for kabbalos hatorah. It is not possible to accept the Torah as one should without preparing for that event. This idea seems to be echoed in the Torah commandment “a person is not permitted to have relations with his wife before kabbalos hatorah” because the event of kabblas hatorah needs a certain purity in order to maximize the experience.
How should one be preparing for kabbalas hatorah? I think that it suffices to say that people who are getting married have a countdown, not only to the event, but they also have a checklist of things that they must do to prepare and tend to before the event in order that they should maximize the wedding day. I was in America for a wedding a few years ago and walked into the home of the groom and was surprised and amused to find him on a treadmill. I asked him “why are you on a treadmill a week before your wedding?” He looked at me in surprise and said “I will have to dance for a few hours straight. You can’t expect me to do that without preparing!?” I think that this is a good example that if one does not prepare on all fronts, he will not succeed in getting the most out of the event.
During sefiras ha’omer, there are those who look to Pirkei Avos (6:6) where the 48 kinyonei hatorah are listed. The Tanaaim give us a checklist of what we must work on in order to receive the Torah properly. Just in case you haven’t started, we are not far enough in that you have a right to give up. Check out this mishneh and maximize your Shavuos!