Parshas Emor: Counting Time

In this week’s parsha, Parshas Emor, we learn of the mo’adim (appointed festival times) by which the Jewish calendar is marked.  And Hashem spoke to Moshe saying: דַּבֵּר אֶלבְּנֵי יִשְׂרָאֵל, וְאָמַרְתָּ אֲלֵהֶם, מוֹעֲדֵי ה’, אֲשֶׁרתִּקְרְאוּ אֹתָם מִקְרָאֵי קֹדֶשׁאֵלֶּה הֵם, מוֹעֲדָי, speak to the Children of Israel and say to them: Hashem’s appointed festivals which you shall designate as callings of holiness – these are My appointed festivals (Vayikra 23:1-2).

The Torah first commands us regarding Shabbos (v.3) and Rosh Chodesh/Kiddush Ha’Chodesh (v.4 with Rashi), and then moves through our entire calendar year, beginning with Pesach, moving to the Omer offering and the counting of the Omer, the chag of Shavuos, then Rosh Hashanah, Yom Ha’Kippurim, and Succos.  

On the significance of the Mo’adim, appointed times during the year when we meet (keviyachol) with the RS”O, Rabbi S. R. Hirsch beautifully and movingly writes, “The Jewish festivals and New Moons are not fixed by astronomic factors; the day does not become sanctified automatically as a festival of New Moon with the arrival of its proper time according to the astronomical calculation.  Rather, we designate times for the festivals and New Moons, and we sanctify them as mo’adim on which Israel meets with G-d, only that this designation is made on the basis of astronomical calculations and in accordance with the course of the sun and moon.

“By virtue of this principle, our New Moons and our spring, summer and fall festivals are divested of any resemblance to pagan cults of sun or moon worship, which stem from the deification of nature; and the times set aside for the meetings between G-d and Israel are elevated from the bondage relationship of servant and master to the loving relationship of parent and child.  The meetings times are set by mutual choice, and are meant to satisfy mutual feelings of love and yearning…

“The fruits of our soil and of our trees do not ripen, and our granaries are not filled, by the grace of the sun.  Rather, G-d, in His sovereignty, judges us with righteousness and kindness; and if we have kept His Torah which rests in His Sanctuary, He will flower our fields in the spring, ripen our fruits in the summer, and fill our barns in the fall.  We must subordinate all our moral and social conduct to His rule; we must let the light and fire of the Torah awaken, develop and fashion our actions, even as the seeds of plant and fruit awaken, develop and take shape beneath the light and fire of the law He has given to nature. In other words, only if we effect a moral flowering, development and maturation within ourselves, will G-d flower our fields, ripen our fruit, and fill our barns with His plenty” (The Hirsch Chumash, Feldheim, Vayikra, p. 773, 775).

As we journey through these weeks of Sefiras Ha’Omer, anticipating with great excitement Chag Ha’Shavuos – the time of the giving of our Torah – the “moral flowering, development and maturation within ourselves” must occur as a prerequisite for the receiving of the Torah.  Our nation moved up forty-nine rungs of the spiritual ladder, from the impurity of Egypt to the purity of Har Sinai, so that they would merit the Revelation at Sinai and the giving of the Torah.

We too, every year during these seven weeks, must undergo a similar spiritually transformative journey.  

וּסְפַרְתֶּם לָכֶם, מִמָּחֳרַת הַשַּׁבָּת, מִיּוֹם הֲבִיאֲכֶם, אֶתעֹמֶר הַתְּנוּפָהשֶׁבַע שַׁבָּתוֹת, תְּמִימֹת תִּהְיֶינָהand you shall count for yourselves – from the morrow of the rest day, from the day when you bring the omer of the waving – seven weeks, they shall be complete (Vayikra 23:15).  And so, we count these seven complete weeks, hoping that as we count time, we make our time count.  

R’ Shalom Rosner quotes the Ksav Sofer (R. Avraham Shmuel Binyamin Sofer, 1815–1871) who “teaches us an important lesson from one word that appears in the pasuk introducing the mitzvah of Sefiras Ha’Omer: וּסְפַרְתֶּם לָכֶם, מִמָּחֳרַת הַשַּׁבָּת – can be translated as: And you shall count yourselves (lachem), from the morrow of the rest day.

“The word ‘lachem’ appears infrequently with respect to mitzvot, and when it does, it plays an important function. [See for example, Shemos 12:2 regarding the first national mitzvah of Kiddush Ha’Chodesh: הַחֹדֶשׁ הַזֶּה לָכֶם, רֹאשׁ חֳדָשִׁים רִאשׁוֹן הוּא לָכֶם, לְחָדְשֵׁי הַשָּׁנָה.]  The Ksav Sofer suggests that the word ‘lachem’ here, used in context of Sefiras Ha’Omer, highlights that the commandment is not just a perfunctory, quantitative counting, but rather that the goal of counting is qualitative.  

“When Hashem commanded Avraham to depart to Eretz Canaan, He said: לֶךְלְךָ, lech licha, go for yourself (Bereishis 12:1).  Rashi comments: לַהֲנָאָתְךָ וּלְטוֹבָתְךָ, for your own benefit and for your own good.  

“Similarly, counting the Omer is for our own benefit, and for our own good.  It is an opportunity to grow in an area of our choice.  One should utilize this period between Pesach and the holiday of the giving of the Torah to improve oneself spiritually.  It is as though we ourselves are climbing the mountain, trying to reach the peak before forty-nine days are up, so that we are prepared to receive the Torah on Shavuos… It is up to us to make our sefira meaningful and truly make Sefiras Ha’Omer count!” (Shalom Rav, v.2, p.117-118).

To give meaning to these weeks of Sefiras Ha’Omer, and to bask in the joy of the mo’adim, we must ensure that every day counts.  R’ Zvi Hirsch Broide of Kelm (1865-1913) used to say: “It is not time that passes by man, but rather it is man that passes through time” (Great Jewish Wisdom, p.133).  

Let us learn these lessons well, as we value and cherish each day, for the past is no longer here, the future is not yet, and the present passes in the blink of an eye.

בברכת בשורות טובות ושבת שלום,

Michal

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