We just relived our Pesach seder as God removed us from bondage, He saved us, He redeemed us and then He took us as His people. We are now spiritually uplifted and we do feel joy. The second day of Pesach through Shuvuous is called Sefiras HaOmer, the counting of the Omer. These are the seven weekly periods that coincide with Spring, the time when we anticipate the upcoming harvest that provides our food all year. We count the Omer, the new barley offering that was brought when the Temple stood. We still count the Omer although we’ve lost our Temple and we reflect deeply regarding its destruction with the hope that God may help us rebuild it. We are also aware of the Spring and the rain. Rain doesn’t “just happen” and without it we have nothing. God provides it all for our benefit. We ask for God’s mercy and that He not withhold His great blessing of rain. “Then I will provide rain for your land in its proper time, the early and late rains, that you may gather in your grain, your wine and your oil. I will provide grass in your field for your cattle and you will eat and be satisfied.” “Beware lest your heart be seduced and you turn astray and serve gods of others and bow to them. Then the wrath of Hashem will blaze against you. He will restrain the heaven so there will be no rain and the ground will not yield its produce…” (The Shema). Do we realize how fortunate we are when God gives us the needed rain or do we just take the rain for granted and then become annoyed by it when it interferes with our plans! Each time we count the Omer we should remind ourselves how much God gives us. Each time it rains it should remind us that He watches over His creation and provides our sustenance.
“When thou hast brought forth the people out of Egypt, ye shall serve God upon the mountain.” (Exodus 3:12.) We wait with anticipation the upcoming historical event of Shavuous. At the end of the seven weeks we are claiming and declaring that we are no longer bound to man, for God has taken us to Him. Our freedom has worth and value only when it is expressed through the foundations and principles of Torah. The goal of freedom and redemption is that one’s true purpose in life is as a servant of God, not man. People think a “sophisticated culture” gives a person absolute freedom, it doesn’t. Living in a culturally rich country doesn’t give a person automatic freedom either. Egypt enslaved us yet it was considered culturally rich and sophisticated. Judaism has no culture, what it has is Torah as its’ way of life, its “lifestyle”. For the Jewish person who lives the correct life this is the only means for freedom, “freedom only through Torah”. This is the freedom that the Master of the Universe gave us at Mt. Sinai and for all future generations. We should be fulfilled spiritually and intellectually by internalizing this idea and naturally live our lives according to this understanding.
Before the Temple was destroyed the Omer was a joyous time now it is a time of partial mourning with no public expression of joy; no weddings and no cutting of hair. There is a reprieve from mourning on the day of Lag B’Omer but we are to be mindful of the great tragedy that befell us when twenty four thousand disciples and Rabbi Akiva died. Their deaths occurred between Pesach and Shuvuous. It is astounding to think of 24,000 deaths within a seven-week period and curiously our mourning is not pushed off until Tisha B’av. We should seriously reflect on this tragic event and think into what it says in Yevamoth, 62b: “that they suffered and did not show respect for each other.” In Bereshith Rabbah, 6I, it says: “They were envious of each other. To the bearers of Torah they were disrespectful and so they were disrespectful of the Torah itself.” Disrespect and envy are a lethal pair and we must always be on guard against these feelings and thoughts that are provoked so easily. A person can have the desire to take revenge or feel hate towards another person at any time. This is what destroyed our Second Temple.
We can learn from the grave consequences that took place during that time and the tragedy that befell us again during the horrible massacres of Jewish communities during the Crusaders and hopefully internalize the reasons for all their suffering. “Bear love to they neighbor as to thyself, I am the Lord.” Levitticus19:18. We are all part of our “Father’s House…” The saying of Hillel is well known: “Do not do unto thy neighbor that which thou would hate to have done to thee.” This is the guiding principle of all our interaction with each other. This changes selfishness and self-love into consideration and love of our neighbor. To love our neighbor as we love ourselves is the realization that we were all strangers in Egypt and that we share the same goal to serve and to love God. What we are speaking about here is not love of the person himself, meaning his personality, but everything that pertains to the person. We are obligated to assist each other in everything that furthers each other’s well-being and happiness. This is required of us even if someone’s personality irritates us. It’s not an easy task! But if he/she should suffer misfortune we cannot look at this as an opportunity to find great happiness in our own progress if it is at the expense of our neighbor’s disadvantage. When God gave us the Torah at Mt. Sinai He elevated our existence and gave us the instructions to become “the light” unto the nations. Today is not any different, we are all here to assist each other, not to compete with each other. We are all here to grow and fulfill our true purpose. The remaining weeks can be used by each of us as a time to look inward and ask: What does Shavuous and God’s precious gift of Torah mean to me now? How can we help bring each other closer to Torah? Have I sincerely expressed my gratitude to The Creator for what He has already given me?
Master of the Universe, You commanded us through Moses, 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. Psalm 67.