Sefirat HaOmer: The Basic Meaning

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10 Mar 2014
Sefirat HaOmer

The word “Sefirah” basically means “counting” or “the count.”

What is being counted?

One counts things of value.

One counts units of time till a desired goal; for a child, it might be, “How many days till vacation?” For an adult, “How many weeks or months till I get my degree?” or “How many years till I’ll be eligible for a promotion?”

Frequently, as in the example above, the items which are counted are units of time. In Judaism, “time” has great value; it is forbidden to waste it, or to “kill time.”

In the Jewish Tradition, the term “Sefirah” also has a specific meaning, and refers to a count of the 49 days between Pesach and Shavuot: between the Festival of “Physical Redemption” and the Festival of “Spiritual Redemption.”

On Pesach, the Jewish People were redeemed from a terrible period of physical slavery in the “House of Bondage” of Egypt. On Shavuot, which commemorates G-d’s giving His precious gift, the Torah, to the Jewish People at Mt. Sinai, we celebrate our going from Spiritual Slavery to Spiritual Freedom.

The purpose of Physical Redemption is Spiritual Redemption. Without the Spiritual, the Physical would have no meaning. The only source of Morality is G-d; the human being is very inventive, but he or she is incapable of inventing a moral code. The best that the human can do on his own, is establish rules that prevent society from descending into chaos. As Rabbi Chanina, the Assistant to the High Priest says in Pirkei Avot (Chapter 3, Mishnah 2) ” ‘Pray for the welfare of the government,’ any form of government, because if people did not fear it, one person would eat his neighbor alive.”

The Torah prescribes a way of life which lifts the human being above his purely physical nature to the level of a moral and spiritual and physical being. It enables him to realize that the conscience within him was planted there by G-d, and that he has the ability to be in touch with, and to model his behavior, to a limited extent, after that of his Creator.

He or she comes to realize that the exit from Slavery was only to become again a Servant, but this time not to any human so-called “master,” but rather to be a Servant of G-d, the true Master of the Universe.

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