We are in the countdown – excuse me, the count-up – from Pesach to Shavuos. And there are so many things I don’t understand.
I understand it took forty-nine days for the Children of Israel to march from Mitzrayim to Har Sinai. I understand we had descended to the forty-ninth level of tumah in Mitzrayim and had a lot to do – that’s an understatement – to stand on a level where Hashem could give us the Torah at all, let alone that we could begin to understand it.
But I don’t understand what this has to do with something called Sefiras HaOmer.
First of all, an “omer” is a measurement. “Sefirah” seems to refer to spiritual levels or madreigas. How can you have the “spiritual level” of a measurement?
I know a barley offering was brought to the Temple on the second day of Pesach, but I don’t know what it has to do with counting Sefiras HaOmer. In fact, it doesn’t say “Sefiras HaOmer of barley” but simply “Sefiras HaOmer.”
I know how to count the Omer, but what am I counting?
I also understand that we are supposed to work on ourselves spiritually during this period, imitating what our ancestors did when they were trying to elevate themselves from the spiritual pit of Mitzrayim to the exalted level required to meet Hashem at Har Sinai.
I understand this, but I don’t understand the various “sefirahs” associated with each day of the Omer, like “chesed sh’bechesed” (the first day) up to “malchus sh’bemalchus” (the last day).
I love this time of year, though I know many tragedies occurred over the centuries during these weeks. I also know we are in semi-mourning because of those tragedies. But I still love it, because of the added kedushah.
“The days of counting the Omer are mentioned by the Torah together with the Festivals to teach us that these days are similar to the Festivals, as if they were a Chol HaMoed, with Pesach at the beginning and Shavuos at the end….” (Book of Our Heritage, quoting Sefas Emes)
So Sefiras HaOmer is considered one long Chol HaMoed. This I can also understand. Chol HaMoed has an exalted status, elevated above the days of the rest of the year, and these would be happy times if it weren’t for the semi-mourning as a result of the tragedies associated with this season. But that “Chol HaMoed” feeling still comes through. It is comparable to knowing that Tisha B’Av is someday going to be a tremendous Yom Tov.
It is also a physically beautiful season. Although not as spectacular as a few weeks earlier, when Hashem decorates His trees with gorgeous blossoms, it is a comforting season, when the chill of winter turns into the warm breezes and bright days of spring, when the grass becomes thick and the trees sprout different shades of green leaves, when you can walk in your shirtsleeves once again. It is a season of chesed from Above, and it reminds us that there is comfort after difficult times.
* * * * *
That’s the background. I love the season, but I have trouble understanding what Sefiras HaOmer is all about. Again, here are the questions:
* What does all this have to do with a measurement called the “omer”?
* How can there be spiritual levels or “sefirahs” of a measurement?
* How is barley involved?
* And what does all this have to do with leaving Mitzrayim and preparing for Shavuos?
Let’s try to understand.
This discussion is particularly timely because next week’s parshah, Emor, is where the Torah (Vayikra 23:10) commands us, “You shall bring the omer of the first of your harvest to the kohen….”