Beit Midrash

  • Shabbat and Holidays
  • The Meaning Sefirat Ha'omer
To dedicate this lesson

Sefirat Ha’Omer: In Anticipation or In Preparation?


Rabbi Yosef Tzvi Rimon

The period between Passover and Shavuot is a unique time, indeed one that can be considered to be a holiday. The Rambam, in commenting on the parasha (Leviticus, 23:21), refers to these days as "Intermediate festive days" – " and they were commanded to celebrate the festival of the Lord for a seven day period, and within this period they were commanded to be holy, as the Lord among them is holy, and from then on 49 days are counted, seven weeks as the seven days of the world’s creation, and the eighth day was sanctified as the eighth day of the holiday. And, the days that are to be counted are intermediate festive days, being between the first and eighth of the holiday. This eighth day is the celebration of receiving the Torah, upon which the Lord revealed himself within the fire and his words were heard from the fire"

Sfirat Ha’omer (the counting of the Omer) connects the holidays of Passover and Shavuot, thereby connecting the physical aspect of the exodus from Egypt and the spiritual aspect of receiving the Torah. The Rambam (Mor’e Nevochim, 3:43) speaks of the anticipation that builds up towards accepting the Torah, when one counts the days of the Omer. Rabbi Yosef "b’chor shor" further explains in depth using an allegory, whereby a slave is imprisoned and is promised by the king that he will be freed from prison within fifty days, and also receive the king’s home. The slave did not believe the king. Only upon being freed did the slave begin to count the fifty days, because only after he saw that the king fulfilled the first promise of freeing him from prison, could he believe that the second promise of granting the slave his home, would too be fulfilled. Similarly to this is the idea of Sefirat Hao’mer . Am Yisrael did not believe they would ever leave Egypt. Upon the exodus, they told themselves­ if the first promise of leaving Egypt was fulfilled, then we shall surely receive the Torah, the fulfillment of the second promise, and so they began counting.

The Zohar in our Parasha (Parasha Emor, 167) presents a different approach. The Zohar says that one who does not count the Omer days is impure and therefore is not entitled to be a part of the Torah. And, one who approaches Shavuot and is pure, always keeping track of the days counted, when the last night arrives, he must learn Torah and connect to it and preserve the pureness that is bestowed upon him, and thus he will be purified. The Zohar uses the word "tahor" (pure). The novel interpretation the Zohar presents is that the counting of the Omer is not only in anticipation, but rather a lengthly preparation towards receiving the Torah. Similar to this is the woman who counts the days to purity following menstruation.

A man prepares himself for his wedding, prepares for a family occasion. When a person does something of significance, he prepares himself for it. The preparation has two purposes: one is to know what has to be done on the occasion (technical preparations for a wedding) and two is to prepare one’sself mentally, spiritually. To elevate ourselves, from a regular day­to­day manner of being to a more elevated, unique way of being.

Such a preparation can be seen in several instances throughout the Torah. Am Yisrael prepared themselves in the same way before the Lord revealed himself to them on Sinai (Exodus 19: 10­11): "And the Lord said to Moses ‘go to the people and prepare them today and tomorrow, and they shall wash their garments: And they shall be prepared for the third day, for on the third day, the Lord will descend before the eyes of all the people upon Mount Sinai". Similarly so, the high priest prepares himself for the prayers and work on Yom Kippur (Masechet Yoma 1:1) and so we too prepare ourselves for the fiftieth day, The holiday of Shavuot, of the receiving of the Torah.

We hereby learn that the days of Sefirat Hao’mer connect Passover to Shavuot, connect the materialistic exodus to the spiritual elevation. This connection of time enables us to approach Shavuot with purity and wholeness. There is anticipation of the event and there is also a special preparation for receiving the Torah.
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