[based on ma’amarim by Rav Shimshon Dovid Pincus ztl, in Tiferet Shimshon]
Vayikra Perek 23 in Parshat Emor, discusses the moadim, among them is of course the upcoming holiday of Shavuos.
Why is the holiday called “weeks”? Unlike Pesach and Sukkot, why is Shavuot named for what happens before the holiday?
The Sefer HaChinuch, mitzvah 306 on the Omer, writes that the Jewish people were born for Torah. We were taken out of Mitzrayim to receive the Torah. To paraphrase, we count the Omer to show our excitement that X many days have passed, and we are that much closer to Matan Torah, and when we are excited we count up.
This last part seems odd — usually when we’re excited we count down. When someone gets engaged, for example, he/she usually counts down the days to the wedding. What is it about Torah and receiving the Torah that makes us count up instead of down?
Rav Pincus explains based on B’reishit 29:20:
וַיַּעֲבֹד יַעֲקֹב בְּרָחֵל שֶׁבַע שָׁנִים וַיִּהְיוּ בְעֵינָיו כְּיָמִים אֲחָדִים בְּאַהֲבָתוֹ אֹתָהּ
And Jacob served seven years for Rachel; and they seemed unto him but a few days, for the love he had to her.
The 7 years that Yaakov had to wait to marry Rachel seemed like they went quickly in his eyes. How can we understand, that waiting 7 long years to marry his beloved Rachel, seemed like it flew by? That’s not how it usually works…
The answer is that each day Yaakov got closer to becoming the person he would need to be, so that he could be a husband to Rachel and progenitor of Am Yisrael. Each day of that 7 (eventual 14) year period, he had a new tefisah.
Imagine that a man is promised he will be given $1 million dollars at the end of 100 days…
If, however, a man is given something productive to work on, and every day for 100 days, he is given $10,000, then the days will FLY by. Ultimately, the man receives the same $1 million dollars, but the experiences are drastically different. Why? Because in this second mashal, every day is another chance to work at something, accomplish and gain something in the process. Before he knows it, the man will have $1 million.This, l’havdil, is the purpose of the Omer, and why we count UP, which may seem counterintuitive, given our excitement to get to the end. We’re eager for the end, but we’re not rushing there, because there is so much personal work we need to accomplish before we get there. Each day of the Omer is supposed to be used as a chance to prepare ourselves to receive the Torah on the 50th day; each day is meant to be used for work, preparation and growth. With each count, we are supposed to prepare ourselves to be koneh torah in another way. Whether that means learning more, working on middos to be a bigger kli for Torah, learning Pirkei Avos during the Omer, etc. The days are not obstacles standing in the way of the big Torah payday at the end; each one is a special, integral opportunity to prepare ourselves. Each day is another “$10,000”, and the final result is worth far more than $1 million.
If we look at Yitzchak’s role, we can understand the connection on another level: Yitzchak wasn’t the founder of monotheism, nor was he the father of the 12 tribes who really expanded nation. Yitzchak was the transition. He dug the same wells as Avraham. He stayed the course. He was given an idea and a new way of approaching the world and G-d, that he had to work on and bolster so that he could hand it off to Yaakov.
Finally, Rav Pincus ties in the significance of counting 49 days. As we know, Creation was 7 ‘days’. But after Creation, the world was simply a skeleton – an external framework. Nothing had been accomplished in the world other than its physical conception and existence.7 (i.e. Creation) multiplied by itself gives the world a certain depth, and this depth comes only from Torah. The world is not supposed to just be a picture, he explains. It is meant to be infused with action and righteousness, and that is what Torah brought to the world.
In the days leading up to Shavuot, we are supposed to fill ourselves with meaning and purpose. If I may humbly continue this thought – we are not supposed to be content simply “being free” after Pesach. On Pesach we were granted freedom; our bodies were given back to us, so to speak. But that can’t be the end of the story. As the Sefer HaChinuch writes, we were taken out of Mitzrayim for the purpose of receiving the Torah. On Pesach we were re-created, and stood in a similar fashion to Adam HaRishon after Creation, with merely the physical attributes of a human being. Between Pesach and Shavuot we are supposed to fill that vehicle and shape ourselves into something meaningful and worthy of receiving the greatest gift in the world.We are not supposed to just be satisfied, admiring a “picture” of ourselves, rather build ourselves into something substantial.
Sheva shabbatot temmimot t’hiyena (
— the idea being that we are supposed to use these days to build ourselves into something complete/shaleim/”tamim”, and be properly prepared to receive the Torah.
Shabbat Shalom, and a meaningful counting of the Omer