Parashat Emor

The Omer Ladder

Forty-nine days pass between the exodus of the Children of Israel from Egypt and the revelation of Sinai and receiving of the Torah. This seven-week journey, entitled “The Counting of the Omer", is mentioned in our portion, Emor.

At this time of year the people of Israel undergo a process of preparation for the giving of the Torah, a process of breaking away from the Egyptian defilement and entering a life of purity. According to our sages, the people of Israel in Egypt had sunken into a process of spiritual degeneration.

With each passing day the nation of Israel frees itself of another layer of impurity, forty-nine in total, and instead of being deep in sin we ascend to the gates of holiness.

But within this bridge between Passover and Shavuot there is something else which is deep and thought-provoking even in the present-day reality. Passover is a festival of freedom and physical redemption. But there is no finality to this redemption, it is rather a step towards the spiritual rejuvenation realized at Mount Sinai. Just as the bridegroom counts the days until he may unite with his bride, the nation of Israel counts the days which separate between physical redemption of the nation and spiritual redemption.

During this past festive week, between barbeques and hot coals, I have given a lot of thought to this same point. For there is, in fact, a parallel situation with our Independence Day (Yom Ha-Atzmaut). Independence is obviously a positive thing. But, as a society, do we have a spiritual agenda? As a state, are we really a "light unto the nations"? Is independence part of a greater process, or do we already see it as the end?

Rabbi Moshe Garelik refers, in his book "Parashah U-Fishra", to that bridge known as "the Counting of the Omer", which connects the freedom of the body with that of the soul:

"The sons of the desert generation, through this counting, reduced the festival of Passover from its independent standing and transformed it into the forerunner of the festival of Shavuot. This is how the bridge and the connection between these two festivals came into being. The counting unified them and taught them not to separate national material redemption from spiritual redemption. The former does not exist without the latter.

The actual existence of the nation's redemption is in danger if it sees itself as the final purpose and as the most important thing of all. Many revolutions have weakened because of the fatigue of their heroes, who believed that they had reached the end of the road and that there was nothing further to which to aspire. The stability of many countries which had finally achieved independence was destroyed because all that remained were relentless power struggles between the liberators.

The counting of the Omer says "NO" to what has been achieved. It sees the exodus from Egypt as a stage, an important and valuable stage, but not to be exchanged for the process itself, the ladder for spiritual ascent and human perfection presented in the Torah of the Festival of Shavuot.

May we, too, be empowered to bridge this gap and ascend the ladder step by step towards the spiritual vision which would complete us as a society.

Weekly Torah Portion