Sefiras HaOmer (Counting the Omer)
by Reb Yosey Goldstein
"You shall then count seven "perfect" weeks after the day following
(Passover) Holiday when you brought the Omer as an offering, until the
day after the seventh week, when there will be a total of fifty days."
(Vayikra / Leviticus 23:15)
Rabbi Chiya taught: "Seven perfect weeks" When will they be perfect
When the Jews do the will of G-d (Medrash Rabbah 28:3)
One could ask regarding this Medrash as follows. Why does the mitzvah or
commandment of "Sefirah", counting the Omer, depend on one's doing the will
of Hashem/G-D more so than any other commandment? Why isn't the counting of
the Omer by itself enough to make the seven weeks "perfect"?
There are two answers I would like to share with you.
The K'sav V'hakabala (Written by Rabbi Yaakov Tzvi Mecklenberg Rov of
Koenigsberg) Explains the Medrash by first analyzing the exact wording of
the verse and thru that analysis he shows that the words of the
Medrash are the true meaning of the Posuk.
The K'sav V'hakabala's first question is: Why does the verse say,
"count for yourselves ..." Why not say "Count on the day etc." What does G-d
to teach us by adding the extra word "lochem", for yourselves? He answers
that it is to teach us that the commandment of counting the forty nine days
between Pesach and Shavuous is not just to count the days. There is a higher
purpose in counting those days, and that purpose is to elevate oneself and
perfect oneself. (As he puts it, the purpose is not quantitative but
qualitative.) To understand this he points out that all throughout the Torah
whenever the term "for you" (lecho) is used it connotes a purpose meant for
The first place we see this is in Parshas Lech Lecho where G-d told
Avrohom "Go for yourself". Rashi explains, "for you, for your own good." I
will give you children in Israel, but here you can not merit having
children." The same thought can be applied to most verses where the word
"Lecho" (for you) is used. There is no benefit for G-d in the performance of
the action, rather it is done only for the person or because he needs it
done. Here too, the purpose in counting is not just to know when Shavuous is
coming, but rather to use those days to refine and purify oneself. The word
used for counting, vesofarto (and you should count), connotes more than just
counting. It connotes study and supervision. We are enjoined to count the
days AND perfect ourselves. (Additionally sefirah has the same root as
saphire, a clear jewel. This is the time to "shine" and refine ourselves.
The Torah tells us to count seven "pefect" weeks. Rabbi Mecklenberg
asks why does the aforementioned verse use the term "perfect", as opposed to
the word "complete"? The seven weeks should be complete, a full forty-nine
days. What does the Torah mean to tell us with the term perfect? With the
Medrash we quoted earlier, and according to Rabbi Mecklenberg's translation
of the beginning of the verse, we can understand the use of the word
"perfect". If the entire purpose of counting is to perfect ourselves, and as
Reb Chiya points out, they are not called "Perfect" unless we do the will of
G-d, then everything is very clear. When we do the will of G-d, and we work
on perfecting ourselves, then we have truly fulfilled the purpose of
Counting the Omer, and the weeks can be called perfect.
Rabbi Yaakov Kranz, better know as the Dubno Maggid, gave the
explanation. Once there were two poor people who went from door to door
collecting alms. They travelled together, begged together, and received
equal donations from every person who was kind enough to help them. However,
one of the poor people was industrious, and he scrimped and saved every
penny he received, and spent as little as possible. Every time he saved a
few pennies, he changed it into a nickel, his nickels into dimes and so on
until he had dollar bills in his pocket. The other poor person was not as
disciplined as his friend and he was constantly spending the money he
collected. He was never able to gather enough pennies to change into
nickels or dimes since he was constantly spending his money.
The same contrast can be made between a "Tzaddik", a righteous man,
a "Rosha", an irresponsible person. A Tzaddik makes every day count. Every
day is full of meaningful activities. Each day is connected to the other in
continuation of their service to G-d. That service ties days together making
them a week. The goals accomplished over four weeks turn into an month of
meaningful effort. The accomplishments of twelve months translate into a
year, and so on. However, an irresponsible person does not have that
continuity. He lacks a goal which connects one day to another. The "Rosha"
truly lives from day to day. All he has is the present day. All the past
days are lost! There is no continuity between the present, and the days
which have past.
The same concept can be applied to the counting of the Omer. G-d
commanded us to count forty-nine days between Passover and Shavuous, because
it was during that period of time that the Jews purified and elevated
themselves in preparation for accepting the Torah on Mount Sinai. It is
during this same period of time that we are also encouraged to prepare
ourselves and use this time to elevate ourselves in preparation for the
Therefore, just like the poor person who was able to take every single
penny and combine it into a large sum of money, we are supposed to make use
of every day of Counting the Omer to prepare for our acceptance and
rededication to the Torah. We don't just "count" each day, we make each day
"count". That is why the Medrash explains our period of counting can not be
considered "perfect" unless we do the will of G-d and we make proper use of
our time during these weeks.
Text Copyright © 1996 Rabbi Dovid Green and
Project Genesis, Inc.