During Pesach we experience liberation from slavery, followed by the dramatic encounter with Pharaoh’s army at the Red Sea. Then we trek through the desert to the great moment at Har Sinai.
This sequence anticipates what our Sages tell us will happen at the Final Redemption. The Chofetz Chaim is quoted as having said that “we can learn about the end of our exile from what happened at the end of our exile in Egypt” (Rabbi Elchonon Wasserman, zt”l, as noted in Redemption Unfolding by A. A. Mandelbaum).
It is well to have this in mind, because we are going to need all the help we can get in the days before Mashiach arrives.
Today the foundations and pillars of our civilization are shaking, just as the foundations and pillars of ancient Egypt shook during the Ten Plagues. The people and the land of Israel are surrounded today, just as we were surrounded at the Red Sea.
When Hashem took us out of Egypt, we were at Mem Tes Sha’are Tumah, almost completely submerged in the quicksand of Egyptian idolatry and immorality. As Rashi tells us (Shemos 13:18), only one-fifth of our people made it out of Egypt at all; the rest had become so assimilated that they disappeared during the Plague of Darkness.
Even those who left with Moshe Rabbeinu were redeemed only through Hashem’s mercy. Extrapolating from that, we can assume that Hashem will redeem us at the time of Mashiach not because we are deserving, but out of chesed. As we say in Shemoneh Esrei, God will send a Redeemer “l’ma’an shemo b’ahavah…for His sake, with love.”
But if we were on such a low level, how did we become worthy to receive the Torah? What happened between Egypt and Sinai?
The answer is that during that seven-week march through the desert, our job was to elevate ourselves so that we would retroactively merit our liberation and try to become worthy of receiving the Torah.
Today, we refer to those seven weeks as the days of Sefiras HaOmer, and our job is not simply to count the days between Pesach and Shavuos but to use each passing day to elevate ourselves. Just as we had to climb from the depths of impurity in Egypt to try to merit standing before God at Mount Sinai, so today we try to prepare ourselves for receiving the Torah once again by working on our middos during these seven weeks.
And so too we are preparing for the Great Day on which we will be redeemed forever from Exile. As we say, “Master of the Universe, You commanded us…to count the Omer in order to cleanse us from our encrustations of evil and from our contaminations….In the merit of the Omer Count…may there be corrected whatever blemish I have caused in the sefira….May I be cleansed and sanctified…and may it correct our lives, spirits and souls from all sediment and blemish….”
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Since the Source of our protection throughout our long and challenging history is the Torah, and since we are now in the process of preparing once again to receive the Torah, I would suggest we concentrate very deeply in the weeks ahead on the spiritual program called Sefiras HaOmer, the crash course in self-improvement that this period affords us. After all, we are doing nothing less than ensuring our own personal and national survival – in fact, the survival of the entire world.
I think it is fitting here to quote from the words of Mrs. Chava Sandler, wife and mother of the recent martyrs of Toulouse, France: “To all those who wish to bring consolation to our family and contentment to the souls of the departed: Let’s continue their lives on this earth. Parents, please kiss your children. Tell them how much you love them, and how dear it is to your heart that they be living examples of our Torah, imbued with the fear of Heaven and love of their fellow man. Please increase your study of Torah, whether on your own or with your family and friends. Help others who may find study difficult to achieve alone. Please bring more light into the world by kindling the Sabbath candles this and every Friday night.”
These are the words of a woman from whom so much was taken. Instead of drowning in bitterness, she gave us the message we need in these challenging times. She encouraged all of the Children of Israel to cleave to the One Source of strength, consolation and direction we possess in this world.
If you have read my book From Central Park To Sinai: How I Found My Jewish Soul, you know I was raised in a home devoid of Torah. Both my parents were Jewish. They were also great people, and we lived in a metropolis filled with Jews, but there was no Jewisness in our life.Roy S. Neuberger