Saturday, March 30, 2013

Every Little Bit Counts

The entire concept of counting the Omer leaves us with quite a few unanswered questions. Firstly, if the Omer is meant to connect between Pesach and Shavuous – why begin counting in the middle of Pesach? Shouldn’t we count as soon as Pesach is over? Secondly, the Torah refers to the first day of Pesach (following which we begin the count) as Shabbos [see Vayikra 23:15] – why? Thirdly, we seem to be confronted with two mitzvos of counting – the weeks and the days [see Vayikra 23:15-16]. In fact, we do count both seven weeks and fifty (up to and not including) days. Wouldn’t it seem logical to count days only up to seven and then by full weeks? Lastly, the reason behind the title of the entire seffira is unclear – why refer to it as the omer, the omer is simply a measurement, in this case of oats, why don’t we refer to it as seffiras haSeorim or seffiras haMincha Chadasha (the flour offering that is the first to contain the new wheat of the season which is offered at the culmination of the seffira)?
All of our questions reflect the misunderstandings of an outsider looking in. When we come to a fuller realization of the meaning of seffira, our questions won’t be answered – they will simply fade away.
The holiday of Pesach is the holiday of redemption. There is an important distinction between redemption and salvation (Geulah and Hatzalah). To save someone usually means to somehow prevent a negative event. Sometimes, it can mean to mitigate or otherwise neutralize the negative effects of an event (ex. When my power went out, my neighbor really saved me by offering refrigerator space for all my food). To redeem, however, means to remove the person from their situation. Redemption is usually accompanied by accepting personal responsibility for them from here on out. While Hashem certainly saved us from the Egyptian bondage and torture, He ultimately redeemed us from Egypt entirely into his domain and personal jurisdiction.
This redemption happened in multiple stages. Firstly, Hashem took the Jews out of Egypt (this was accomplished in one day – with the same term as the Torah uses to describe the removal of leaven from our houses for Pesach – “תשביתו” or “Sabbaticalize”) then Hashem took the Egypt out of the Jews (this took the remaining 49 days until the Jews were ready for the purpose of their redemption – the receipt of the Torah).
Taking the Egypt out of the Jews was a process with at least two major components – "סור מרע ועשה טוב" – “turn away from bad [deeds] and perform good [ones]” [Tehillim 34:15]. Performing good deeds is a daily event. We rise every day and thank Hashem for the ability to serve Him and for the opportunities He gives us to do mitzvos. How do you “turn away” from bad deeds, though? By being presented with the opportunity and refusing. We are not faced with the same challenges every day – there are the diverse trials of the weekday and the unique set of circumstances that govern the weekend. In order to truly wash our hands from sin we must experience both and come out unblemished. This is the reason for the two separate counts.
Finally, why the reference to the measurement of the Omer instead of its substance? because it is that philosophy that keeps us going day by day. While we do need to focus on a “big” goal and know where our life and Torah accomplishments are going; ultimately, we should realize that it isn’t the “big goals” that count. Hashem put us here every day to accomplish an everyday goal. As the mishna states “It is not up to you to finish the task, yet you are not at liberty to desist from working towards its completion” [Avos 2:16] The most empowering lesson of all is that Hashem only requires from us our part, our “measure”.
And when we shoulder our part of the burden, the Hashem will surely see the interwoven tapestry of all of Am Yisrael and bring the final redemption, speedily in our days. Amen.
So, happy counting, because every day counts, because you count, and because Hashem is counting on you !
Hatzlacha !

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