What is the relationship between Pesach and Shavuos?
Rabbi Naftali Jaeger, rosh yeshiva of Sh’or Yoshuv, relates in the name of the Ishbitzer Rebbe a striking metaphor:
Think about an egg. An egg on the Seder plate reminds us of the korban chagigah. In addition, we eat an egg as part of the Seder meal. Why is an egg significant?
There is nothing else like an egg. It is born twice. First, the egg is laid by the mother bird. But where is the baby? Still inside. The baby then has to peck its way out. Following this laborious work, the egg cracks open and the little bird emerges.
This birth is a two-part process: first the egg is laid and then it hatches.
And so it is with us. We are born twice: physically on Pesach and spiritually on Shavuos.
We entered Mitzrayim as seventy souls, and in Mitzrayim we became a nation. As it says in the Haggadah, “The Aramean sought to destroy my father [Jacob], and he went down to Egypt and sojourned there, with a family few in number; and he became there a nation, great, mighty and numerous.”
In Mitzrayim we were born physically. When we left, we were still at mem-tes sha’are tumah, the forty-ninth level of impurity. We were not in a condition to receive the Torah.
We marched forty-nine days to Har Sinai, under the leadership of Moshe Rabbeinu. By the time we arrived at Har Sinai on the forty-ninth day, we had climbed forty-nine steps and had worked our way up to the level at which we could receive the Torah. We still needed a lifetime (or perhaps millennia, on a national level) to absorb the Torah and reach our full potential, but at least we had shed some of the impurity of Mitzrayim.
On Shavuos, Am Yisrael was able to “crack the shell” of our enslavement to the culture of Mitzraim. Inside that shell we were unable to embrace the Torah, but we broke out. At Har Sinai we became a spiritually unique nation.
This is the two-part process of our birth.
Now, as we reach Shavuos, we have been “pecking at the inside of the shell” since Pesach, and we are ready to emerge. We accomplished much spiritual work during Sefirah. Am Yisrael had to shed the impurity that engulfed us in Mitzrayim. Today we have exactly the same job.
Indeed, Sefira is historically a period of challenge for Am Yisrael, and our response to challenge has always been to work on ourselves spiritually. During this period we begin to study Pirkei Avos, whose purpose is ethical refinement.
The language of counting the Omer itself clearly delineates our focus: “You commanded us through Moshe Your servant, to count the Omer to cleanse us from our encrustations of evil and from our contaminations…so that the souls of Your people Israel be cleansed of their contamination. Therefore, may it be Your will, Hashem…that in the merit of the Omer count I have counted…may there be corrected whatever blemish I have caused…. May I be cleansed and sanctified with the holiness of Above, and through this may abundant bounty flow in all the worlds. And may it correct our lives, spirits and souls from all sediment and blemish; may it cleanse us and sanctify us with Your exalted holiness, Amen.”
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So, just what we are supposed to do with this Torah we are accepting on the Great Day of Shavuos, and where do we want to go with it?
I would like to extend Rabbi Jaeger’s egg metaphor beyond Shavuos and apply it to the entire Yom Tov cycle. What in fact happens to that little bird that emerges from the egg? What should it do when it cracks through the shell and blinks its eyes in the bright new world?
The holidays have a cycle, a beginning and an end. Many years ago, before my wife and I embraced Torah, life was totally different. Today each day, each week and each month have a structure. A week begins on Yom Rishon (Sunday) and progresses toward its end on Shabbos Kodesh. This of course parallels the account of creation, which takes place on six days and culminates on the seventh.