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Counting the Omer

September 29, 2012 at 6:54 pm



Count and Wave

By counting the Omer, we elicit a divine response from Above.

Adapted from the works of Rabbi Schneur Zalman of Liadi

The commandment to “count the Omer” is to count the days between Passover and Shavuot. The Torah states that from the day the “wave offering”, the Omer, was brought (on the second day of Passover) we should count each day for forty-nine days, which brings us right to the holiday of Shavuot on the fiftieth day.

In order to appreciate some of the inner significance of this commandment, we must bear in mind what the holidays of Passover and Shavuot are all about. Passover, the holiday upon which G_d redeemed the Jews from Egyptian bondage and exile, and Shavuot, which marks the day the newly freed nation stood at the foot of Mount Sinai to receive the Torah from G_d, are connected by the intervening forty-nine day period of the count, called “sefira” (meaning to count) in Hebrew. The sefira represents not only the Jews’ anxious counting down of the remaining days until the great gift of the Torah would be presented; the count is itself significant, and even necessary for the Torah to be given at all.

Together, Passover and Shavuot are an instance of a common spiritual pattern: first there is a “running forth”, followed by a “coming back”. That is, G_d wants there to be a “give-and-take” relationship between Himself and the Jews, a relationship characterized by our own striving to initiate a closer attachment to G_d through performance of the Torah and mitzvot. Only then, after we have ourselves made advances in this direction, does G_d reciprocate by aiding us along and actively drawing us closer to Him. (The Hebrew terms for this, “ratzo” and “shov“, meaning “running forth” and “coming back” respectively, are based upon Ezekiel 1:14, where the concept is mystically alluded to.)

The Exodus from Egypt on Passover symbolized our breaking free of our worldly inhibitions and limitations with respect to the service of G_d, after which we received G_d’s reciprocal “coming down”, as it were, to grant us the Torah on Shavuot. And in each and every generation, we must all experience this in our own daily lives, accomplished by arousing yearning for G_d during prayer, to the point we want to leave our own personal boundaries and “run forth” to Him.

This is where the Omer – the waving of the Omer offering and the counting of the Omer period – comes in.

Regarding the “wave offering,” we are told, “…and he [the priest] shall wave the Omer before G_d so that it be favorable for you; on the morrow of Shabbat shall the priest wave it.” (Lev. 23:11) The word “omer” is actually a unit of volume; the reference is to the first-fruits of the harvest, an omer of which had to be consecrated unto G_d, as commanded in the previous verse. This was done by the priest physically waving that omer of first-fruits, which, the Talmud (Menachot 84a) teaches, consisted of barley.

The significance of this is that the act of raising up and consecrating the omer of barley to G_d symbolizes our own consecration of the animal soul, since barley itself is cattle fodder. On a deeper, mystical, level, the omer offering symbolizes the elevation and consecration of the entire world to the service of G_d. This is because, in the spiritual realms as well, there is a counterpart to the “animal” which eats “barley”.

And that is the inner implication of the phrase “and you shall count [u’sefartem] for yourselves”. Not only are we literally counting these days, but in addition, we are eliciting from above the influence of the divine attributes (sefirot), which shine upon us.

Adapted from a discourse in Likutei Torah
Copyright 2001 Yitzchok D. Wagshul / www.likuteitorah.com


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