"Count for Yourselves"
"You shall count for yourselves - from the day after the rest day (Passover), from the day when you bring the Omer of the waving - seven weeks, they shall be complete. Until the morrow of the seventh week you shall count, fifty days; and you shall offer a new meal offering to the L-rd." (ibid)
Busy work or a means toward self-improvement? G-d requires of His people many tasks, as described in Torah, some whose import is immediately evident, and others seemingly so mundane that at first glance we risk misreading their intent. This is certainly true of the commandment of sfirat ha Omer - the counting of the Omer. What can we possibly gain by tallying the forty-nine days of a seven week period? The assigment seems positively clerical in nature.
To begin to understand and reveal the hidden potential of sfirat ha Omer, we need to make note of some key words used by Torah to describe the mitzva: U-se-FAR-tem la-CHEM - "count for yourselves" - not for Me, but for yourselves, similar to G-d's words to Avraham - Lech le-CHA - "Go (for yourself)... to the land that I will show you," (Genesis 12:1), and later, "And He said: 'Take now your son, your only son, whom your love, even Yitzchak, and get (for yourself) into the land of Moriah." (Genesis 22:2) The expression, "for yourself," as used by Torah, announces a spiritual journey. The second clue can be seen in the word temimot - "complete," or "perfect" - referring to the period of seven weeks. The same word is used to describe Noach (Genesis 6:9), and Yaakov, (Genesis 25:27).
Yes, this task of sfirat ha Omer - the counting of the Omer - is a spiritual journey through which we can further refine and perfect ourselves and our relationships with our fellow man and with G-d. Little wonder, then, that the forty-nine day period of the counting of the Omer corresponds precisely with the forty-nine days that passed between the exodus from Egypt and the receiving of Torah on Mount Sinai. For the children of Israel also required a forty-nine day spiritual journey to ready themselves for the revelation at Sinai. And little wonder that the forty-nine day period of the counting of the Omer corresponds precisely with the day that marks the beginning of the barley harvest in the land of Israel and concludes with the offering of two loaves of leavened bread of wheat, in the Holy Temple, on the festival of Shavuot (the festival of the giving of Torah). Our sages describe the coarse barley kernels as being fit food for livestock, and the the baked loaves of leavened wheat as being the perfection of sustenance ready for human consumption.
From the first commandment received by the nation of Israel, the commandment to mark the new moon, the new month of Nissan, "the first of your months," (Exodus 12:2) G-d has imparted to His children the sacred nature of time. Torah understands time not as mechanical increments of seconds, minutes, and hours, but as an opportunity for refinement, spiritual honing and fine-tuning. Time itself can be made holy by how we spend it, and by making our time holy, we make ourselves holy. "Count for yourselves" - make yourself count, work on the coarse barley of your own nature, constantly refining it. Make yourself complete and pure through the proper use of time. The word of G-d, the Torah of Sinai, is waiting to be received. Let us perfect our selves, so that we will be worthy!
Tune in to this week's TEMPLE TALK as Rabbi Richman and Yitzchak Reuven discuss the untimely and mysterious death of Aaron's sons Nadav and Avihu; this week’s Torah readings concerning the laws of purity, and the counting of the Omer: making each moment “count,” shedding our negativity, and learning to focus on the real work of self-improvement and character development that are a necessity for receiving Torah.