TORAH TUESDAYS: PARSHAT EMOR
BY HENNIE BLACK
In this week’s Torah portion of eMOR, WE LOOK THE COUNTING OF THE OMER, THE 49 DAYS BETWEEN PASSOVER AND SHAVUOT.
AS JEWS WHO BOTH COMMEMORATE AND RELIVE HISTORY, HOW DO WE MAKE THE COUNTING OF THE OMER RELEVANT TODAY?
In this week’s Torah portion of Emor, we are commanded, “And you shall count for yourselves, from the morrow of the rest day, from the day you bring the Omer as a wave offering, seven weeks, they shall be complete.”
We are required to count the Omer, known as “Sefirat Ha’Omer” (“Counting the Omer”) for a period of 7 weeks, 49 days in total, corresponding to the period between Passover and Shavuot. This time period originally correlated with the 7 weeks that the Israelites traveled through the desert, between the Exodus and their arrival at Sinai.
The Jewish people needed this 7-week period to transform themselves from a slave nation to a nation ready to serve G-d. While Passover represents our physical freedom from slavery, Shavuot represents our spiritual freedom, a completion of the journey that began with the Exodus and ended with the giving of the Torah at Sinai.
As the Israelites traversed the desert during this 7-week period between Passover and Shavuot, they prepared themselves to receive the Torah. Similarly, as we count the Omer today during this same period, we too take this time to improve ourselves as we get ready to re-accept the Torah on Shavuot.
Looking carefully at the verse quoted above, the Torah tells us to “count for yourselves.” The commentaries point out that the word “for yourselves” seems redundant. Wouldn’t it be sufficient to just tell us to count? Since we know that the Torah is precise in its language and every word is essential, the addition of “for yourselves” adds a new dimension of understanding.
“For yourselves” suggests that we are asked not merely to count the days to Shavuot, we are asked to also count ourselves; that is to say, we are asked to take an account of where we are at, what behaviours and actions we wish to improve on, and how we want to grow.
Rashi finds a similar refrain in the story of Avraham. When G-d first appeared to Avraham, He told him, “Lech Lecha” (“Go to Yourself.”) The command to Avraham to leave his birthplace to an unknown destination allowed him to transform himself to be the father of the Jewish people.
Similarly, during this period when we count the Omer, we too are asked to use this time as an opportunity to grow and improve ourselves. We are asked not just to “count” each day, but to make each day “count.”
When G-d created the world in six days, G-d took a look at what He accomplished and determined, at the summation of each day, that His each creation was “good.” Except for one day that is—the day on which G-d created man—the Torah does not conclude with “and He saw that it was good.”
Why is that? All other creations were created as complete, therefore the creation was considered “good.” Man, however, was created with unlimited potential, with the ability to refine him/herself and to harness the capacity for growth. G-d said, “Let us make man.” Who was G-d talking to? Some commentators explain that G-d was speaking to “man” so to speak, intimating that it was both G-d and man who would enter into a partnership of creation, one that would take a lifetime of self-improvement to complete. The “good” in reference to humankind is never complete, as we are meant to continually evolve and improve ourselves.
The word “sefira,” (“count”) relates to the word “sapir,” meaning sapphire, a precious gem that needs to be polished in order to see its beauty. We are that sapphire, that precious stone, and we need to “polish” ourselves in preparation for receiving the Torah. Just as a sapphire has flaws and imperfections that need polishing, so do we. We must remember that our flaws and imperfections are opportunities for growth to become the person we are meant to be.
Let us use the remaining days of the Omer to refine our characters as we prepare for the holiday of Shavuot and become worthy recipients to once again receive the Torah.