Inspiration and Impression

Naaleh_logo Shiur provided courtesy of

Adapted by Channie Koplowitz Stein

Parshat Emor contains the mitzvah of counting the Omer, counting the days between Pesach and Shavuot, from our redemption from the physical slavery of Egypt to the day Hashem revealed Himself to us and we accepted His Torah at Har Sinai. The actual text of the mitzvah has led to much discussion, and has even been interpreted in ways unacceptable to traditional Orthodox observance by the breakaway sect, the Sedducees. The verse states, "You shall count for yourselves -- from the morrow of Shabbat, from the day you bring Omer Hatenufah/the Omer of the waving seven Shabbatot temimot/complete Shabbat cycles. From the day after the Shabbat you shall count fifty days..."

The controversy arises from the interpretation of "the morrow of the Shabbat." While Rashi and all our rabbis explain that Shabbat in this context refers to the day of rest mandated for the first day of Pesach, the Sedducees, who reject the oral Torah and always follow a completely literal interpretation of any verse, maintain that the counting of the Omer must begin on the day after the weekly Shabbat of Pesach, always on Sunday. Our discussion here focuses on why the Torah chose to associate this mitzvah with Shabbat, albeit it may be ambiguous.

The Sedducees' unwillingness to accept the traditional interpretation of the text is an ideological schism rather than an alternate understanding of the text, writes Rabbi Bressler in Lemachar Aatir. The Sedducees were unwilling to accept the connection between the physical freedom of Pesach and the spiritual freedom of Shavuot. As Rabbi Scheinerman explains, they were unwilling to accept that both the written and the oral Torah were transmitted from Sinai, and that we are therefore bound by Rabbinic interpretation of the written word. Therefore they interpreted the verse literally, and began counting on the day after the Shabbat of Pesach, so that the fiftieth day, Shavuot, always fell on Sunday.

But Hashem has made us His partners in sanctifying the world He created. While Hashem imbued Shabbat with sanctity, He expects that sanctity to extend to the holidays as well. Hashem Himself declared the very first Rosh Chodesh/New Moon when He showed Moshe the New Moon before that first Pesach. That first Rosh Chodesh, like Shabbat, received its sanctity directly from Hakodosh Boruch Hu. Hashem invested the New Moon with sanctity, and then He delegated the declaration of the New Moon to the people at the beginning of each month. This declaration thus established the exact day of any holiday that fell within that month. With faith in Bnei Yisroel, Hashem accepted the authority of the people in this declaration, writes the Ner Uziel. But the Sedducees could not accept that Hashem would relinquish some of His authority to human beings.

Letitcha Elyon brings us an understanding from Rabbi Yitzchak Kaplan. He reminds us that the whole idea of Sefirah is to appreciate the physical world as spiritual. On the night of Pesach we achieved that level and were able to prepare for receiving the Torah. But that feeling easily dissipates. We begin counting the very next day to keep that feeling within us as we move away from the Pesach experience toward Shavuot. That is why the Torah emphasizes to "count for yourself."

It is through counting these days that we hope to work on ourselves to achieve the inner harmony that Shabbat brings each week, explains Rabbi Reichman based on the Shem Mishmuel in Living the Chassidic Legacy. Just as Shabbat uplifts us, so does Pesach, and both bring clarity into our lives. While Shabbat takes us out of the confusion of this world into a purified environment, Pesach stays within this world, as are all the other days of the week. Our goal is to count seven Shabbatot, to take the message of Shabbat into the mundane weekdays, to be wholesome and at peace with Hashem, with ourselves, and with other people. This wholesomeness with others will repair the flaw of Rabbi Akivah's students who failed to respect each other properly, disturbing the peaceful harmony.

Although both Shabbat and the yomim tovum are sacred, there is a difference between them. Shabbat is always a constant, and receives its sanctity directly from Hakodosh Boruch Hu. On the other hand, the holidays receive their sanctity from Bnei Yisroel, writes Letitcha Elyon. However, that first Pesach was sanctified by Hashem Himself Who "personally" came down to smite the Egyptian firstborn. That sacred energy was a gift from above to show us what we can achieve, and to task us with striving for it as human beings. As Rabbi Mendelovitz explains, Hashem let us taste that sacred energy so that we would want more and do the work to earn it. Life is about being inspired, writes Rabbi Chaim Friedlander, but that inspiration and memory gets lost. It is easier to "climb the mountain of Hashem" than it is to "maintain the sanctity of that [His] place" afterwards.

Each of us has an innate sense of sanctity. Hashem gifts us with a taste of that sanctity every Shabbat. And Hashem has vested that sanctity in the Beit Din who will determine the days of Yom Tov, the days that will contain the sanctity of Shabbat itself, writes Rabbi Miller. Hashem revealed this sanctity on Pesach and then removed it. Then Hashem empowered us to work toward achieving that sanctity again. Hashem then rewarded our effort by gifting us with the Torah on Shavuot.

Each of us is on this spiritual quest, each with our own set of abilities and challenges. We begin the work, and then Hashem gifts us with renewed strength to achieve the sanctity we seek.

It is something familiar that we are seeking. Rabbi Tatz reminds us of the medrash that an angel teaches a fetus in utero all the Torah, but at the moment of birth, he taps the baby's lips and the child forgets it all. Nevertheless, the memories of this Torah remain deep within the individual, and in moments of deep challenge, a bit of that initial inspiration may flash before him, lighting his path again so that he will continue his journey to realize the potential of the sanctified life Hashem has implanted in him.

This is the pattern of life, inspiration, followed by battles, and finally achieving the transcendence of the first phase, now earned through one's own effort. When the soul leaves this world, the Gra notes that it will meet that old, familiar angel who will greet him, looking for the Torah he taught him, hoping the soul he had taught before birth grew to live a life that would now permit him to call the Torah his own.

What is the essence of this period we call sefirah/counting? Rabbi Nebenzahl notes that sefirah is related to sap[f]ir/sapphire, a precious stone that needs to be cleaned from the earth from which it is mined if it is to shine. This time of year is a time to focus on polishing ourselves by working on perfecting our middot/character traits. But middot also means measurements. The work cannot be done all at once, but must be done in small measures, one step at a time, if we are to be successful. We are hoping to move from our animalistic tendencies, signified by the omer offering of barley on Pesach to a refined state symbolized by the refined offering of the two loaves of bread on Shavuot. Shabbat is our weekly reminder to wake up and create harmony.

As Rabbi S. R. Hirsch teaches, seven times must Shabbos come into our lives to train us in the harmony that accepting the yoke of Heaven will bring us. [We must experience a full seven Shabbatot, a full week of resets to attain a lasting reset. CKS] We are not just counting days, but making each day be affected by Shabbat.

In fact, in Ohr Doniel Rabbi Ochion explains that Shabbat itself is the source of our ability and readiness to accept a new yoke of Torah and mitzvoth immediately after leaving the servitude of Egypt. It is precisely because we know that Hashem, the Creator of heaven and earth is the one in control that we can willingly cede our newfound independence. We recognize that only in Partnership with Hashem can we thrive, and the Torah gives us the tools we need to succeed. The Omer reminds us to maintain the Shabbat perspective, to live knowing that Hashem is in charge.

In this sense, Pesach is like Shabbat. Pesach showed us [and the world] that only Hashem Who created the world is in control of everything. Hashem Himself came down and revealed His presence and His power on Pesach. Hashem may have left for His heavenly abode, but He left His impression, His fingerprint of sanctity on earth. It was this imprint, this DNA sample of sanctity that remained with us and enabled us to receive the Torah, writes the Slonimer Rebbe in Netivot Shalom. Just as we integrate the energy of Shabbat into ourselves, so can we also integrate the energy of Pesach into our lives. [Interestingly, modern forensic science proves that anything that even passed through a place has left something behind, some DNA, even if we are incapable of finding it. We are learning that what is true in the physical world will eventually prove true in the spiritual world as well. CKS] Citing the Maggid of Koznitz, the Netivot Shalom understands why we do not recite Shehechiyanu when we begin counting the Omer. After all, he writes, counting the Omer is not a new mitzvah, but is still drawing on the energy of the first Pesach.

Shabbat too leaves an impression when it leaves, writes Rabbi Schorr in Halekach Vehalebuv. Shabbat brings with it a radiance, glory and splendor. When Shabbat departs, this glory, radiance and splendor leave as well, but they leave behind a trace, a scent, a mist. What was said about Yaakov when he left Charan is true about every aspect of our world and about our lives. Everything leaves its impression. When we do a mitzvah our body is impacted; the hand that was extended with some coins for tzedakah or in aid to another human being retains some of the energy of that mitzvah. For Shabbat especially, take the beauty of Shabbat with you all week. Shamor et yom Hashabbat/Guard the day of Shabbat [within you] after it is gone, for, as the Slonimer Rebbe writes so beautifully, shamor is an acronym for roshem. Let Shabbat leave its impression on you. Shabbat and Torah are inextricably connected. Let us count every Shabbat, but especially those between Pesach and Shavuot, and let us make these weeks count.