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Beit Midrash Shabbat and Holidays Articles on Sfirat Ha'omer

Between Passover and Shavuot

The essential message of Passover is that the Almighty dominates and rules over His creation, while Shavuot focuses upon God's role as king. Both these traits find expression in the Omer counting, which is reckoned both according to days and weeks.
Dedicated to the memory of
Hana Bat Haim
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1. A Question of Days and Weeks
2. God the King - God the Ruler
3. "We shall do and we shall hear"
4. Passover and Shavuot Are Bonded by Days and Weeks
5. The King's Mighty Hand

A Question of Days and Weeks
The Sages of the Talmud teach, "There is a commandment to count the days, and there is a commandment to count the weeks" (Rosh HaShanah 5a). In counting the Omer, then, we are obligated to count the days - "Today is one day in the Omer...Today is two days in the Omer...etc." In addition, we are obligated to count the weeks. On the seventh day of the Omer, we must say, "Today is seven days, which is one week in the Omer," and so forth.

The question that arises is, why should we have to add the number of weeks? After all, everybody knows that seven days are one week, fourteen days are two weeks, etc. Moreover, why does the counting of the Omer take place from Passover to Shavuot? The implication is that there is some connection between these two days, but what is it? And while many authorities have already addressed these question, it seems fitting to shed a bit more light on the matter.

God the King - God the Ruler
We find that the Almighty is referred to as both a ruler ("moshel") and a king ("melekh"), as Scripture states, "For the kingdom is the Lord’s; and He is ruler over the nations" (Psalms 22:29). This verse implies that God is now both a king and a ruler. The Book of Obadiah, however, informs us that "saviors shall ascend Mount Zion to judge the Mount of Esau; and the kingdom shall be the Lord’s" (1:21). The words "and the kingdom shall be the Lord’s" appear to indicate that, at present, God does not enjoy kingship; only in the future will this become a reality.

Upon this backdrop, the Vilna Gaon explains (in his commentary to the Book of Proverbs) that there is a deference between the Hebrew terms "moshel" and "melekh." A "moshel," a ruler, is one who achieves power through force against the will of the populace. A "melekh," a king, on the other hand, is a leader whose authority the people desire. The Jewish people, by accepting the authority of the Almighty as their king, effectively granted Him the royal crown. The nations of the world, however, have yet to accept His Divine kingship, and therefore we recite (at the end of the Aleinu prayer):

"To perfect the universe through the Almighty's sovereignty. Then all of humanity will call upon Your name...All the world's inhabitants will recognize and know that to You every knee should bend...and they will all accept upon themselves the yoke of Your kingship that You may reign over them soon and eternally."

This means that Divine kingship will result from the nations' understanding, knowing, and accepting upon themselves the yoke of God's authority. Once they have done this, God will be king over the entire world.

We find, then, that God is already king over Israel, but when it comes to the nations of the world, God will only be king over them in the future, when they accept His kingship upon themselves. This will happen when the Messiah comes and teaches the entire world to know God and to accept His blessed authority forever.

But as far as being a ruler, God has held this position since the creation of the world, regardless of humanity's willingness to accept Him. One clear indication of this fact is the teaching of the Mishnah (Avot 4:22): "For without your will do you live, and without your will shall you die, and without your will shall you certainly give an account and reckoning before the King of kings, blessed be He." We do not enjoy ultimate control over our lives; rather, life is directed from above in accordance with the desire of the Almighty, the creator and sustainer of the universe.

"We shall do and we shall hear"
The Vilna Gaon continues, employing this distinction in order to explain the meaning of what the brothers said to Joseph when he related his dream to them, "'For, behold, we were binding sheaves in the field, and, lo, my sheaf arose, and also stood upright; and, behold, your sheaves stood around, and made obeisance to my sheaf.' And his brothers said to him, 'Shall you indeed reign as a king over us? or shall you indeed have dominion like a ruler over us?" (Genesis 37:7-8). The fact that his sheaf rose and stood upright indicates that he will rule over them, even against their will. At the same time, the fact that the brothers' sheaves bowed down to Joseph's sheaf indicates that they accept his kingship, for they bowed down without his forcing them to do so (Ibn Ezra, in his Torah commentary, provides a similar explanation of this dream).

We find these two aspects at play during the giving of the Torah at Mount Sinai. On the one hand, the Children of Israel accept God's kingship when they say, "We shall do and we shall hear" (Exodus 24:7), i.e., we are ready to fulfill the order of our king and we will carry out whatever He commands us. There is no need to first hear what the command is, for we will at any rate fulfill everything. The nations of the world, however, ask to know what is written in the Torah before they can receive it. They do not agree to fulfill God's commandments regardless; they want first to know what their obligations will be and to consider whether or not it is worthwhile to accept it.

Although, as noted, Israel declared, "We shall do and we shall hear," the Sages of the Talmud teach (Shabbat 98a): "'And they stood under the mount' (Exodus 19:17): R. Abdimi b. Hama b. Hasa said: This teaches that the Holy One, blessed be He, overturned the mountain upon them like an [inverted] cask, and said to them, 'If you accept the Torah, very well; if not, here shall be your burial.'"

This teaches us that the Torah was given to Israel through force, in the manner that a ruler forces his subjects to accept his opinion. True, we had already voiced our emphatic willingness to receive Torah (indeed, the Talmud relates that when the ministering angels heard the Children of Israel proclaim "We shall do and we shall listen," they asked, "Who taught the Children of Israel to say 'We shall do and we shall listen,' an expression used by the ministering angels?" In other words, Israel succeeded in accepting upon themselves God's kingship in a manner which placed them on a level of perfection similar to that displayed by the ministering angels when they fulfill their role before the Creator of the Universe). However, in order that our receiving the Torah and our dedication to the Creator not be based merely upon our own acceptance of Him (for there remained the possibility that at some point in time we might say, "From here on we no longer desire the Torah"), the Holy One, blessed be He, overturned the mountain upon them like an [inverted] cask, and forced them to accept the Torah.

Thus, despite the fact that we are His nation because He forced His dominion upon us, we accepted His kingship. We desired to have Him as our king because we understood that the world was created for this purpose: that we fulfill the desire of the Almighty for as long as we exist on the face of the earth.

Passover and Shavuot Are Bonded by Days and Weeks
On Passover, we commemorate the fact that the Almighty forcefully rules over the word. We celebrate the fact that He took us to be His nation, and brought us out of Egypt with His great strength before the eyes of the entire world. The Maharal (Gevurot HaShem 5:60) explains that this is the reason we eat matza on Passover, but not chametz. Matza indicates haste, and this teaches us that the dimension of time, which ordinarily applies to the actions of man, did not exist when the Almighty redeemed us from Egypt.

This helps us to understand why on Shavuot, of all Festivals, we sacrifice two loaves of leavened bread from the first grain of the new harvest in the Holy Temple (and in so doing permit the bringing of meal-offerings from the new grain), while most grain offerings brought in the Temple are unleavened matza, as the verse states, "No meal offering, which you shall bring to the Lord, shall be made with leaven; for you shall burn no leaven...in any offering of the Lord made by fire" (Leviticus 2:11). The main point of the Shavuot Festival is our enthroning the Almighty as our king. Therefore, Shavuot essentially gives voice to our own perspective, and this fact finds expression in the two loaves of leavened bread, which, as we have noted, signify the dimension of time.

The essential message of Passover, then, is that the Almighty dominates and rules over His creation, while the Festival of the Giving of the Torah focuses upon God's role as king over His people, the nation of Israel. And when viewed through this vista, we can understand that the counting of the Omer, which is reckoned both according to days and weeks, comes to unite these two matters: God's dominating rule on the one hand, and His kingship on the other.

The act of counting days relates to the world of nature and man, for this is how the physical world was brought into existence. A week, however, binds the mundane weekdays with the sanctity of Sabbath in producing a unified whole, and by so doing voices the dependence of the physical world upon the Almighty's transcendent spiritual being.

In other words, the individual days indicate man. The significance of our reckoning these days is the preparation to accept the yoke of the Kingdom of Heaven. On the other hand, the counting of the weeks gives expression to the power of God over man. The counting of the Omer, which comes to create a bond between Passover and Shavuot gives expression to these two aspects, through the counting of days and the counting of weeks.

The King's Mighty Hand
We find that it is written, "As I live, says the Lord God, surely with a mighty hand, and with a stretched out arm, and with fury poured out, will I rule over you" (Ezekiel 20:33). This indicates that there is kingship which stems from a mighty hand, an outstretched arm, and fury. On this verse, Radak comments that though our exile amongst the nations will last for a long time, we will never cease to be a nation. Even if only a small percentage of the entire nation finally emerges, we will forever constitute a nation in God's eyes. He will forcefully make Himself king over us, and in taking us out of the exile He will refine us, weeding out the criminals and rebels.

In other words, the Almighty will employ a mighty hand and an outstretched arm in order to maintain His status as king over the nation of Israel. And in order to do this, He will remove the unfaithful and those who rebel against His royal authority, so that only those who accept His authority remain.

This is what R' Nachman said in regard to this verse (Sanhedrin 105a): "Even with such fury let the Merciful rage against us, but that He redeem us." That is, this fury causes us to recognize God's kingship, and the redemption comes about as a result. We now understand an additional side of God's overturning the mountain upon Israel like an inverted cask at the giving of the Torah: even if we decide at some point to retract, saying, "We prefer to be like the nations," we will be forced to willingly accept God's kingship.

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