!To infinity – and beyond
Written by the rabbi
Having now passed Lag B’Omer – & so the semi-mourning practices memorializing the death of Rabbi Akiva’s students have come to an end (for most) – we enter the "home stretch" to Shavuot. We are in the last stage, the final third of our "count up" from Pesach, before
reaching the awesome moment of Matan Torah.
So, while the count is still continuing, let us try to answer two nagging questions about Sefira:
1) Why do we "count up? Would it not be more exciting to count down, & then "blast off" into Torah space? Haven’t we learned anything from NASA?
2) The pasuk, in last week’s sedra of Emor, clearly says: "And you shall count fifty days." And yet we don’t, do we? We stop at 49! What happened to 50?!
Let us try to answer both of these questions with one viewpoint that explains what Sefirat Ha-Omer is all about.
Rav Soloveichek notes the point-counterpoint between Pesach & the period of counting that immediately follows it. Pesach, he says, represents Perfection. Hashem intervened in history & performed countless miracles for us, in order to solve all our problems, to elevate us to dizzying heights. We saw more at the Splitting of the Sea than the greatest prophets ever saw. Chazal say: "Whatever you wish for on Pesach will be granted to you!"
But counting - as we do in the Omer - symbolizes imperfection! Because whatever number we are at today, tomorrow will be a bigger, greater number! (And that is why we count up, not down). If Pesach represents perfection, then Sefira symbolizes Man’s need to always strive to achieve more tomorrow than he did today, to reach ever closer to Hashem in holiness.
It is precisely the determination to not be content with our present state, to want more, to do more, to battle against stagnation & inertia, that ultimately defines spiritual greatness. In that sense, the Omer may be even greater than Pesach!
And that is why we never do come to the end of our counting; we never "cap off" & complete our ascension to Kedusha. 50 remains an elusive goal, the achievement "just beyond," to which we should always aspire. Like a candle, our Neshama is perpetually reaching upwards; the moment it fails to do so, it dies out.
This knowledge, that there are no limits, is precisely what moves us to try and reach those limits, to propel our souls higher & higher. To Infinity – and beyond!
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