From Emor to Omer
By Rabbi Pinchas Winston
G-d told Moshe, "Speak to the Children of Israel and tell them that
when you come into the land which I give to you and you harvest it,
then you must bring an omer of the first fruits of your harvest to
the priest. He must wave the omer before G-d, to be accepted for
you; on the day after the day of rest (the second day of Passover)
the kohen must wave it." (Vayikra 23:9-11)
How convenient that the parshah of the omer comes up every year
during the actual period of time to which it refers. As counting the
omer is one of those short and unusual mitzvos that we do religiously
without too much understanding of what its effect is meant to be, it
is always worthwhile to go into some detail about it.
Let's start with this:
"The depth of this idea is that the Omer-Offering that we perform
each year is for the sake of building Malchus and its completion, a
process which begins the day after the first day of Pesach and which
is completed on the holiday of Shavuos, as is known from the words of
the Arizal. This rectifies Israel in this world, making them holy to
G-d without any trace of the Sitra Achra..." (Drushei Olam HaTohu,
Admittedly, there are some terms to explain here before moving on.
First of all, Pesach is one of the four "judgment days" mentioned in
the mishnah and discussed in the Talmud, specifically with respect to
the wheat harvest. Says Rebi Akiva there:
"Why did the Torah say to bring the omer on Pesach? Since Pesach is
the time of the wheat harvest, The Holy One, Blessed is He, said,
'Bring an omer before Me on Pesach so that I should bless the wheat
in your fields.'" (Rosh Hashanah 16a)
Thus, for forty-nine days beginning from the second day of Pesach, an
omer of barley was brought to the Temple as the Omer-Offering
commanded in this week's parshah.
The "Malchus" being referred to is that of G-d's, specifically down
here on earth. Stock markets and technological achievements aside,
the point of world history is to build the Kingdom of G-d here on
earth. In simple English, it means bringing mankind to the
realization that G-d runs the world so that they will, lovingly, turn
their attention to His will and their energy to implementing it on
all levels of society. In even simpler English, it means Yemos
HaMoshiach - Messianic Time.
This is a process that is relevant all year round, but apparently
most appropriate between the holidays of Pesach and Shavuos.
The "Sitra Achra," in this context, of course refers to the yetzer
hara. One heart can't have two loyalties. Thus, the process of
building G-d's kingdom on earth has the effect of simultaneously
reducing the role and influence of the yetzer hara in people's lives,
until it is gone completely from the world. The Talmud says that in
the Days of Moshiach, G-d will slaughter the yetzer hara. (Succah
What better time of the year to work on this than between Pesach and
Shavuos? On Pesach we eat unleavened bread that symbolizes the
deflated ego - man without his yetzer hara. The omer period that
follows continues the process of spiritual refinement with the goal
of presenting us before G-d as purified beings by Shavuos, when we
relive the giving of Torah.
Thus, the Leshem (Rabbi Shlomo Elyashiv, zt"l) continues:
"For, the rectification of the Malchus and Israel are one and the
same process, because they are its structure and limbs. It emanates
throughout every Jew, and it is the totality of the Jewish people.
All rectifications of Israel are within it because they represent the
emanation of its spirit."
Again, simply put, the perfection of the Jewish people represent the
perfection of the Kingdom of G-d on earth. Every Jew who returns to
Torah and sanctifies the Name of G-d by trying to lessen and then
remove the yetzer hara from his life represents a rectified portion
of the Kingdom of G-d. We are the "bricks" in the Kingdom of G-d.
Its soul is our soul.
Think about it. It's an awesome thought.
On that day you must offer an unblemished male yearling sheep for a
Burnt-Offering to G-d. The meal-offering must be two-tenths of an
ephah of flour mixed with oil, a Fire-Offering to G-d for a pleasing
fragrance. The Libation-Offering of wine should measure the fourth
part of a hin. (Vayikra 23:12-13)
Wait, it gets better, as the Leshem continues:
"The Omer-Offering was to rectify the Divine Presence and Israel in
this world every year. However, the main rectification will be in
the future at the 'End-of-Days.' The redemption will begin on Pesach
and be completed on Shavuos."
The main point of this specific offering was to reunite G-d with His
people. Gradually, year after year - even if we can't sense it - the
Omer-Offering that was brought for forty-nine days between Pesach and
Shavuos was repairing the relationship between G-d and the Jewish
However, the main 'tikun' has yet to come because it will occur in
the final set of forty-nine days necessary for this task, the one at
the End-of-Days. The result will be that:
"The Divine Presence will be fully revealed through the Jewish
people, as it says in Yeshayahu (30:20), 'Your Teacher will no longer
be hidden behind His garment, and your eyes will behold your
Teacher'. Behold, the Holy Divine Presence is called 'Faith of
Israel' (Emunas Yisroel) because only Israel believes that G-d reigns
forever, and that only He has created, creates, and will create all
that will ever exist."
That's what WE are ALL about, have been about, are right now, and
always will be about. This is what it means to be a "light unto
nations," to make it eminently clear to the world that the Torah is
not just a story - it is the most accurate description of reality
that mankind can grasp. At some point in time, with or without our
help, this is going to become true as reality flip-flops and what was
once 'myth' in the minds of the masses - Torah - will become reality
and what was reality will become distant illusion.
The only question is, does this process continue on in our day when
we do not have a Temple and therefore cannot bring the Omer-Offering?
The answer, of course, is yes. What we lost primarily when the
Temple was destroyed was the 'right' and possibility to work in
partnership with G-d towards a common goal: redemption and the end
of history. While we had a Temple we had a 'medium' through which to
make a significant and specific contribution to the cause of
creation, one that channeled the spiritual energies of the Jewish
people in a very profound way.
However, Temple-less, we clearly lack such a focal point for the
spiritual and physical output of the Jewish people. Nevertheless,
that does not mean that we lack ALL means to 'contribute' to the
ultimate goals of the Omer-Offering. This was particularly evident
from the fact that Rebi Akiva lost his 24,000 students during this
period of time, accounting for the mourning aspect of what should be
a thoroughly happy, though, very contemplative time of the year.
However, the main point here is that "the redemption will begin on
Pesach and be completed on Shavuos," and as the Talmud states
elsewhere, "war is also the beginning of redemption" (Megillah 17b).
Ironically, it was the savage suicide bombing of a Pesach Seder this
year in Netanyah that instigated the high level of war that Israel is
presently fighting, and which is drawing international wrath and
threatening to draw in U.N. troops.
If so, then this places a whole new emphasis on another aspect of the
Omer mitzvah, one that is still practical even in our times and at
this late and thorny period of history.
You must count seven complete weeks from the day after the day of
rest, from the day that you brought the Omer for the Wave-Offering,
until the day after the seventh week, a total of fifty days.
In anticipation of the holiday on which the Torah was given, we count
the days between Pesach and Shavuos. Like someone counting money
which is dear to him, we don't count down but up to the event of
events, 'Matan Torah.'
However, Sefiras HaOmer, which is implemented by verbally stating the
count itself after three medium stars have come out in the evening
sky, has the dual effect of connecting two of the three Jewish
festivals in an intimate bond. In a very real and practical sense,
the first day of Pesach is the first day of Yom Tov, Shavuos itself
is the last day of Yom Tov, and the days of the omer in-between are
like the period of 'Chol HaMoed.'
The message is clear: the process that began on Pesach only ends on
Shavuos; the one that centered around matzah ends only on the one
whose offering is two loaves of bread. The Omer-Offering and the
Omer-Count were and are the vehicles by which to travel from Point A
to Point B. It may be a simple and quick mitzvah to perform, but a
VERY effective one as well.
This is why in advance of the Omer-Count there is a paragraph that
explains, in detail, just what we are about to do, to make sure that
our thoughts are properly aligned. Many skip this paragraph for one
reason or another.
In some siddurim there is also another anomaly. In the blessing in
advance of the count, the Name of G-d is expanded in brackets. In
other words, each of the four letters of G-d's Ineffable Name (the
Tetragrammaton) are written as they sound (i.e., Yud-Vav-Dalet,
Heh-Aleph, Vav-Aleph-Vav, Heh-Aleph). There are four such versions
of G-d's Name, and the gematria of this version is equal to 45 when
you add up the value of all ten-letters. It is the Name that
corresponds to the level of Chesed through Yesod in the Sefiros, and
the light with which G-d brings redemption.
Furthermore, the prayer "Ana b'koach" is also found in the Sefiras
HaOmer service, which automatically indicates that something very
spiritual is taking place. This is THE prayer whose seven stanzas
produce the 42-Letter Name of G-d that prophets used to meditate on
before ascending to higher spiritual plateaus. Just as in the case
when we welcome in Shabbos, we recite this prayer to use it as and to
signal the ascension to a higher spiritual domain.
Again, not all recite anything more than the brochah and the
Omer-Count, but all siddurim seem to print very much the same thing.
However, perhaps the climax of all of this is the final paragraph
that contains within it all the goals and aspirations of every Jew,
and the key to the importance of the Omer-Count:
"Master of the Universe, You commanded us through Moshe, Your servant
to count the Omer-Count in order to cleanse us from our encrustations
of evil and from our contaminations, as You have written in Your
Torah, "You are to count from the day after the rest day, from the
day you brought the Omer-Offering that is waved; they are to be seven
complete weeks. Until the day after the seventh week you are to
count fifty days" (Vayikra 23:15), so that the souls of Your people
Israel be cleansed of their contamination. Therefore, may it be Your
will, G-d, our G-d and the G-d of our Forefathers, that in the merit
of the Omer-Count that I have counted today, that there be corrected
whatever blemish I have caused in the sefirah (and here we insert the
sefirah that corresponds to the day itself). May I be cleansed and
sanctified with the holiness of Above, and through this may abundant
bounty flow in all the worlds. And may it correct our lives,
spirits, and souls from all sediment and blemish; may it cleanse us
and sanctify us with Your exalted holiness. Amen, Selah!"
It's a long paragraph, and again, many skip it. However, it does
tell the whole story and seems to say that the actual counting of the
Omer acts in very much the same way as the Omer-Offering itself did.
Therefore, it is a simple and quick mitzvah that is to be taken
seriously and performed with great intention, especially as the
Jewish people stand at such important historical crossroads, which
threaten to affect the life of every Jew, no matter where he or she
Trust and Faith in G-d, Part Three
"When we further contemplate this matter, we will see that it is as
if certain very holy people whose spiritual strength was great and
who were always directed towards G-d also erred in this matter,
though not as the result of a test or complaining, G-d forbid, but as
a result of their own humility and great holiness. Nevertheless, on
their level it is still considered a mistake and blemish. The rabbis
write in 'Pesikta d'Rav Kahana' and it is also found in Vayikra
Rabbah (29:2): And you, Ya'akov my servant, do not fear: On the
ladder that The Holy One, Blessed is He, showed Ya'akov Avinu, the
angel of Baval ascended and then descended, after which the angel of
Medai ascended and descended, and then the angel of Yavan ascended
and descended, and finally the angel of Edom ascended and descended.
The Holy One, Blessed is He, told Ya'akov, 'You ascend too.' At that
moment Ya'akov became afraid and said, 'G-d forbid I should ascend
like the rest and descend as well!' The Holy One, Blessed is He,
told him, 'Do not fear, for you will ascend but never descend.'
However, he did not believe Him and therefore did not ascend. Reb
Becharia in the name of Rebi Meir elucidated: Ya'akov Avinu erred in
this and did not believe in His wonders and therefore he did not
ascend. The Holy One, Blessed is He, told him, "Had you trusted in
Me and ascended, you would never have come down again. Now that you
did not trust in me, your children will be oppressed by the four
kingdoms'..." (Drushei Olam HaTohu 2:5:4:5)
What had been bothering Ya'akov Avinu - the GREAT Ya'akov Avinu? If
he himself, OUR Forefather, could not find it within himself to
adequately trust in G-d at his moment in truth, then how can we be
expected to act otherwise?
According to the Leshem, Ya'akov was bothered by his own
imperfection. In his humility, he assumed that he could still sin,
and if not him, then his descendants, and that this would 'force' G-d
to send his children into exile. After all, how could G-d simply
look the other way in the face of sin, which may even undermine the
entire Torah like idol worship or illicit relationships?
Therefore, it wasn't that Ya'akov doubted G-d's good will and desire
to treat him and his descendants the best way possible. He certainly
didn't doubt His ability to do so! Rather, what he doubted was HIS
own ability to uphold HIS end of the bargain, which would cause G-d
to make his future people 'descend' just as the other nations did as
"However," continues the Leshem, "it seems to me that the main thing
is that any promise of good cannot be changed even in light of sin,
as it says in Midrash Tanchuma, Parashas Vayaira (13) ... In fact,
the only time such an occurrence does happen is when the trust itself
is the reason for the sin, that is, he trusts in G-d not to punish
him and therefore he acts wantonly and leniently and sins ...
Regarding, Ya'akov Avinu, he feared that if he trusted in himself
that he would become lenient and sin, and thus his trust would be the
reason for his sin and cause for G-d to change His promise ..."
Thus, concludes the Leshem, only when a person uses his trust in G-d
as a reason to be lenient in terms of mitzvah performance and
committing transgressions, things can backfire. However, if one
sincerely trusts in G-d, is doing his best to live by Torah
appropriately, and finds himself in need of Divine help through no
negligence of his own, then trust in G-d will save the day - to the
extent that one actually is prepared to rely upon G-d.
A peaceful and meaningful Shabbos for ALL of the Jewish people,