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By Rabbi Yitzchok Adlerstein | Series: | Level:

Completing the Incomplete1

Something is deficient and incomplete about the season between Pesach and Shavuos. Take dates, for instance. For some reason, the Torah fails to attach a calendar date to the [2]mitzvah of bringing the Omer offering. Similarly, it doesn’t link Shavuos to a specific date. (The Omer is mysteriously described as obligatory on “the day after Shabbos;” Shavuos is simply called the fiftieth day.[3] ) Why do the starting and finishing points of the Omer period lack their own identities?

In truth, the season is all about completing the incomplete – about something that gets started around Pesach but is kept dangling and incomplete until it matures at Shavuos. This takes place in different ways, and on different levels, but the underlying process is the same: Pesach, Shavuos and the period in between amount to a single conceptual event, stretched over time

Freedom itself grows and matures during this period. It is true that Pesach gives us plenty to celebrate. Freedom is no small gift; on Pesach we were freed from the dominion of the Egyptians, and from the oppressiveness of their cultural suffocation of our forebears. The continuum between Pesach and Shavuos, however, emphasizes that we did not fully earn our freedom when we triumphantly crossed out of Egypt. Full freedom comes only with Shavuos and kabbalas ha-Torah; no person is free without Torah. On the other hand, no one can arrive at a proper kabbalas ha-Torah without the weeks-long inner purification that ought to be taking place between the two holidays. (These observations can explain why the mitzvah of simchah is not mentioned in connection with Pesach, but is derived exegetically from its mention in association with Shavuos and Sukkos. The full measure of Pesach’s simchah cannot be experienced on Pesach, is possible only for the person who used the time between to slowly and methodically mend his character.)

Our growth in the Sefirah period takes place in two distinct ways. The first is in distancing ourselves from the clutches of Mitzrayim. Seforim point out that yetzias Mitzrayim is mentioned exactly fifty times in the Torah. We do not achieve true freedom in a single moment. Leaving Egypt was the first step; many, many more steps were needed. (The reference to Bnei Yisrael going up from Mitzrayim “chamushim” [4] can be taken this way. When they left Egypt, they merely went one fiftieth of the distance towards freedom that they needed to go.)

The Torah describes the count of Sefirah as “fifty days,”[5] even though we stop the count at forty-nine. The explanation, according to our approach, is straightforward. The count begins with and includes the important first step, on the first day of Pesach. While we do not include it formally in our count, it is the all-important first step that launches the journey.

Understood more precisely and kabbalistically, on the first day of Pesach, the various “lights” revealed by Hashem’s closeness are all flashed in an instant, apparently (to us) willy-nilly, shining from the uppermost sefiros. After the first day, those sefiros become hidden from us. We are left to pick up the pieces, as it were, finding the vestiges of those lights and assembling them in the proper order, one at a time, one day at a time. When we complete the process, we are ready for a Shavuos just as potent in Divine revelation as the Pesach that preceded it.

The second crucial dimension of our growth addresses our character. Purifying our midos provides the vehicle for kabbalas ha-Torah, because all our inner imperfections prevent Torah from taking up a firm position within us. The gematria of forty-nine, the number of days between Pesach and Shavuos equals that of lev tov. (While the five students of R. Yochanan ben Zakai each suggested a different focus of self- development, it was R. Elazar ben Arach’s contribution of lev tov that won out in the Mishnah.[6] ) The heart, after all, is the seat of all the midos. Maharal teaches that Man must perfect himself in three crucial kinds of interaction: with Hashem, with other people, and with own self. While improving midos is always important, the work is especially pressing during this period, when we ready ourselves for our impending kabbalas ha-Torah.

The Bais Avrohom noted the serendipity in the Torah readings during the weeks of Sefirah. They begin with an inventory of human failings: nega’im, tumah, arayos. They then move to the kedushah that can take root, once those faults have been eliminated. The Torah speaks of the general mitzvah of pursuing kedushah (Kedoshim tihiyu ). [7] It delineates specific instructions for sanctifying our eating, our intimacy, our communal representatives (the kohanim), time (the holidays), and our Land. We come to realize that kedushah is not a laudatory refinement that we add on to proper living, but part of the very essence of being Jewish.

Some are puzzled by the manner in which the Torah instructs us in the mitzvah of the Two Loaves offering on Shavuos. “You shall count fifty days, and offer a New Minchah to Hashem.”[8] The Torah first attaches an oblique reference to the mitzvah of the Sefirah count, and then goes on to fully explain it in the very next verse. Why link the korban of Shavuos to the counting?

The puzzle is solved. The very point of the counting is to make the two kinds of change that we have been talking about, in order to ourselves become the New Minchah. The Keli Yakar explains that the korban on Shavuos is called “new” because it is emblematic of Torah, which Chazal tell us must be new in our eyes each day. We spend seven weeks between Pesach and Shavuos, completing and ordering the lights of revelation that briefly flashed within us on the first night of Pesach, and completing the housecleaning of our inner selves and character. This allows us each year to take part in a new kabalas ha-Torah, and experience that will be only as rich and fulfilling as the effort that went into our conduct in this special period of time.

1 Based on Nesivos Shalom, Sefiras Ha-Omer, pgs. 311-313
2 Vayikra 23:15
3 Vayikra 23:16
4 Shemos 13:18. The word is related to the number five.
5 Vayikra 23:16
6 Avos 2:13
7 Vayikra 19:2
8 Vayikra 23:16

Text Copyright © 2009 by Rabbi Yitzchok Adlerstein and