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From seven to seven – Sefiras Haomer

This week’s parsha discusses the mitzva of Sefiras HaOmer:

וספרתם לכם ממחרת השבת מיום הביאכם את עמר התנופה שבע שבתות תמימת תהיינה. עד ממחרת השבת השביעת תספרו חמשים יום והקרבתם מנחה חדשה לה’.

“You shall count for yourselves from the day after the rest-day (Pesach), from the day that you offer the Omer sacrifice, seven complete weeks there shall be.  Until the day that follows the seventh week  you shall count fifty days and offer a new meal offering to Hashem.”[1]

The Gemara infers from these verses that there are two distinct mitzvos of counting: a mitzva to count seven weeks and a mitzva to count fifty days.[2]  In practice, we fulfill both mitzvos by first counting how many days have passed, and then breaking that number down into weeks and days: for example – “eight days, which are one week and one day”.[3]

What is the significance of counting the days on the one hand and counting the weeks on the other?  The Torah presents Sefiras HaOmer as a preparation for the “new meal offering,” which was offered in the Beis HaMikdash on Shavuos.  Today we have no Beis HaMikdash in which to offer animal or meal sacrifices.  Instead, Sefiras HaOmer prepares us for the Kabbalas HaTorah that occurs each year anew on Chag HaShavuos, in which we reaffirm our dedication to Hashem and His holy Torah.  The two aspects of counting correspond to two different kinds of preparation for Kabbalas HaTorah.

Counting the Days

The significance of counting each day can be understood in light of the practice of Rav Yisrael Salanter’s discipleswho would devote each of the first forty-eight days of the Omer to perfecting one of the forty-eight attributes by which Torah is acquired, as detailed in Pirkei Avos: “Studying, listening, articulating, contemplating,” and so on.[4]  The forty-ninth day serves as a review of them all, or alternately as a day devoted entirely to prayer for Hashem’s help in advancing in Torah, as we discussed elsewhere.[5]

In addition to this classical approach, the Kabbalists present an esoteric perspective on the significance of each day of the Omer.  The Arizal explains that the forty-nine days correspond to the seven lower sefiros of chesed (kindness), gevurah (might), tiferes (splendor or balance), netzach (eternity),  hod (radiance), yesod (foundation) and malchus (kingship), each of which contains within it aspects of all seven, thus allowing for forty-nine combinations.

Based on this, many have the custom to pray that our counting may perform the desired Kabbalistic rectifications in Heaven relevant to the particular night: chesed of chesed on the first night, gevurah of chesed on the second night, tiferes of chesed on the third, and so on.Obviously, these are very profound concepts, the roots of which are beyond the realm of our understanding.  However, on a practical level we can also understand this as a reminder to improve our own middos, in our day-to-day interactions with our peers.  On the first day of the Omer, we can strive to improve ourselves in the area of “chesed of chesed” by caring for others.  On the second day, we improve our “gevurah of chesed” by controlling our urge to say or do something that might be offensive.

The Baal Shem Tov taught that a Jew must firmly believe that when he moves even his smallest finger in the service of Hashem, he influences the Heavens above to an astounding degree.  Certainly our smallest effort to improve our middos has great influence above, corresponding to the deep Kabbalisitic rectifications that transpire on each day of the Omer.

Accordingly, as we count the days of the Omer, we count our opportunities to improve ourselves and our interpersonal relationships, and thereby prepare ourselves to receive the Torah in the most profound and meaningful way.

Counting the Weeks

The significance of counting the weeks can be understood in light of the Zohar, which compares Hashem to a King, Bnei Yisrael to His royal bride, Kabbalas HaTorah to their wedding canopy, and the seven weeks of Sefiras HaOmer to the seven days of purification necessary for a bride to prepare for her wedding.  The Zohar states as follows:

ישראל כד הוו במצרים הוו ברשותא אחרא והוו אחידן במסאבותא כאתתא דא כד היא יתבא ביומי דמסאבותא, בתר דאתגזרו עאלו בחולקא קדישא דאקרי ברית כיון דאתאחדו ביה פסק מסאבותא מנייהו כדא אתתא כד פסקו מנה דמי מסאבותא בתר דאתפסקו מנה מה כתיב וספרה לה שבעת ימים, אוף הכא כיון דעאלו בחולקא קדישא פסקא מסאבו מנייהו ואמר קודשא בריך הוא מכאן ולהלאה חושבנא לדכיותא, וספרתם לכם, לכם דייקא כמה דאת אמר וספרה לה שבעת ימים לה לעצמה, אוף הכא לכם לעצמכם ולמה בגין לאתדכאה במיין עלאין קדישין ולבתר למיתי לאתחברא ביה במלכא ולקבלא אורייתיה.

Bnei Yisrael in Egypt languished under the dominion of the Other Side.  They were rendered unclean, like a woman in her impurity.  After they underwent the Bris Milah they were freed from this influence and ascended into the portion of holiness which is known as the “Covenant.”  The moment they attached themselves to this portion of holiness their impurity ceased, as a woman whose impurity ceases to flow.  She must then fulfill the verse, “And she shall count for herself seven days.”[6]

So too, when Bnei Yisrael ascended to the portion of holiness their impurity ceased.  The Holy-One-Blessed-be-He then commanded them to begin counting towards purity, “You shall count for yourselves[7]– for your own selves indeed, and for your benefit, just as a woman counts for herself and for her benefit.  Here too, count for yourselves, so that you may be purified in the holy supernal waters and unite with the King to receive His Torah.[8]

Following this parallel, the Ohr HaChaim[9] explains why we count Sefiras HaOmer from the second night of Pesach and not from the very first day of our liberation.  When a woman purifies herself, she must observe seven complete days of total purity.  The first day in which the impurity ceased does not count.  Only after that day of partial impurity is completed, may she begin counting her seven pure days.[10]  So too, on the first day of Pesach our souls were freed from the clutches of Egyptian impurity.  We can only begin counting the Omer on the following night, in order to observe seven complete weeks of total purity.

*

The Zohar refers to the impurity of Egyptian idolatry, but in truth there are many forms of impurity that separate the royal bride, Bnei Yisrael, from her beloved Groom, the King of kings.  Regarding this, Yeshaya the Prophet warned:

עונתיכם היו מבדילים ביניכם לבין אלוקיכם: “Your sins have separated you from your G‑d.”[11]

For example, poor middos distance a person not only from his peers but also from his Creator.  The Gemara states that Hashem cannot stand the presence of the haughty,[12] as we learn from the verse:

גבה עינים ורחב לבב אתו לא אוכל: “Upraised eyes and haughty heart, him I cannot bear.”[13]

Elsewhere, the Gemara states that liars are barred from drawing close to Hashem,[14] as the verse states:

דבר שקרים לא יכון לנגד עיני: “Speakers of falsehood shall not stand before My eyes.”[15]

Indecency in dress and speech are also forms of impurity which distance us from Hashem, as the verse warns:

ולא יראה בך ערות דבר ושב מאחריך: “Let no indecency be seen among you, lest Hashem abandon you.”[16]

As we count the weeks for Sefiras Ha’Omer, we are given special Divine assistance to cleanse ourselves from these and all other forms of impurity.  It is therefore especially incumbent upon us to take advantage of this precious opportunity.

*

The two aspects of Sefiras HaOmer, counting the days and counting the weeks, represent two crucial prerequisites for Kabbalas HaTorah: סור מרע ועשה טוב – “Shun evil and do good.”[17]

By counting the forty-nine days of the Omer, we “do good” by improving ourselves in forty-nine ways, thus developing all the noble traits that distinguish Bnei Yisrael as Hashem’s chosen nation, worthy to wear the crown of His holy Torah.  By counting the seven weeks, we “shun evil” by cleansing ourselves from the impurity that distances us from Hashem.

Although all the holidays require spiritual and physical preparation, there is no other holiday that merits a unique mitzva from the Torah as its preparation, as does Shavuos.  To the degree that we contemplate the depth and significance of this important mitzva, we can better fulfill it and better prepare ourselves to receive Hashem’s most precious gift, the holy Torah, and thereby unite with the King in perfect unity.


[1] Vayikra 23:15,16

[2] Menachos 66a

[3] Shulchan Aruch Orach Chaim 489:1

[4] Avos 6:5

[5] See Minchas Asher on Parshas Emor 5769, “Prayers for Torah

[6] Vayikra 15:28

[7] Vayikra 23:15

[8] Zohar III, 97a

[9] Vayikra 23:15

[10] Shulchan Aruch Yoreh Deiah 196:1

[11] Yeshaya 59:3

[12] Sotah 5a

[13] Tehillim 101:5

[14] Shabbos 149b

[15] Tehillim 101:7

[16] Devarim 23:15

[17] Tehillim 34:15

Comments (2)

  • micha berger

    A request: If the Hebrew version of the same shtikl Torah or teshuvah is also available on the site, could you please include a link for it? I think it would be a nice thing to have going forward. For those of us who can handle the Hebrew, once the English shows the topic is intriguing enough to invest the effort.

    Thanks for all your efforts, gutt voch (by the time you read this), tisku lemitzvos rabbos,
    -micha

    Reply
    • Rabbi Akiva Dershowitz

      we will try to provide when available
      see torahbase.com for many available shiurim

      Reply

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