Sefirat HaOmer – Counting Days
The commandment to count the omer is one of the more questionable commandments of the Torah. We are told to count the 49 days between Pesach and Shavuot. Therefore, it is very much a mitzvah in which the process is in and of itself a value.
Rabbi Akiva Tatz in his book “Living Inspired” questions; it is the natural activity of one who anticipates a longed-for event to “count-down” towards that event. When one looks forward to a significant day, one counts off the days remaining between the present and that anticipated day. It appears from here that when we count the Omer, we are counting backward. We count the days that have elapsed from Pesach – one day of the Omer, two days of the Omer and so forth. Surely, we should be counting the diminished number of days remaining until Shavuot, each day one less, rather than an increasing count of days that have elapsed?
To add to the quandary, we count towards Shavuot and yet we call the count Sefirat HaOmer – the counting of the Omer, which is an offering brought on Pesach. Why is the Mitzvah named for the point of departure instead of the goal? Why is the mitzvah named for the lowly barley offering instead of the lofty bread offering of Shavuot?
Rabbi Eliyahu KiTov in his “Book of our Heritage” explains that Israel had reached such a low spiritual level, that had G-d not taken them out of Egypt on the fifteenth of Nissan, had they remained there but a little bit longer, they would have remained there forever. And when G-d took them out of Egypt, He raised them up from the lowest abyss to the loftiest plateau, from the most mundane state to the greatest sanctity. He bestowed upon Israelthe power to ascend to unimagined heights of holiness. Heights they certainly would not have attained on their own accord. Only in this way could they come to deserve the miracles of redemption. It was this inspiration that carried them through the events of the day.
Then came the morrow, and the revelation was withdrawn. Now the Children of Israel had to strive for themselves to regain that lofty level of the previous day, the clarity with which they had seen G-d. Now human effort was necessary to retain and maintain the level to which G-d had raised them, to show that they were worthy of redemption. This is the task of the fifty days between Pesach and Shavuot. A process of increasing kedusha, sanctity that needs to be striven for, day by day in the routine of mundane practical life without the assistance of miracles or the supernatural.
On that day G-d told them, “Today I shall leave you on your own. I elevated you yesterday so that you would know what an elevated spirit is so that you will seek to achieve it through your own efforts and your own merits. Today you begin this task. Count fifty days – fifty levels that you are to ascend on your own, until you reach a level that is even more exalted than that which you experienced yesterday. Only then will your achievements be permanently acquired so that they will never leave you.
“Bring your offering on your own, without inspiration from above. Do not feel ashamed if your first offering is poor and small – a single omer of barley for an entire nation. It is sufficient that it be brought on your own will – with a true sense of giving. Do not bring Me more than this, for you are not yet ready for a major sacrifice and if you bring one, it will not be desired. Rather, if that which you bring is offered on your own volition, in a spirit of true giving, it will be sufficient for Me to bestow upon you an abundance of good from the heavens above and from the earth below.
“Begin your ascent and count as you ascend. But when counting do not raise your eyes to the ultimate goal, for you are not yet aware of it. Always look back to the omer, your very first offering. Count from there and you will see how far you have ascended. Your hearts will be uplifted as you ascend on God’s path and you will, at the end of fifty days, reach a level that you had never expected.
“Then you will bring Me a new minchah offering – new because you never believed or knew that man could ascend so high a level wherein the best of his fats and the best of his oils and all that he has are sanctified to his God.” (Book of our Heritage pg 688-9)
Only through this long and difficult process of self-perfection, could Israelcome at last on the fiftieth day to Mount Sinai.
So we see here a process beginning with G-d’s salvation of the Israelites, continuing with the effort of man on his own to achieve spirituality, to actualize the dormant holiness that is planted within him, and ending with G-d’s renewed intervention, guiding him to levels of spiritual attainment not accessible to human nature by its own strength.
Thus concludes Rabbi Tatz “This is the essence of Sefirat HaOmer. Shavuot and the Revelation on Mount Sinaiare not reached by a single act but by a deliberate painstaking building of each of the seven days of the seven weeks that leads to it. We work on the process, the pathway not the result, and the result happens of its own.
“For this reason we count from Pesach and not towards Shavuot. We cannot create Shavuot, we can build the path. We build on the omer, we build on that which we already have. Today is one day of the omer – I have built one day; Today is two days of the omer – I have built two days. When we have built forty-nine days correctly, Shavuot takes over and we become an even higher reality.”