Wednesday, April 25, 2007

Sefiras HaOmer: Short, straight and simple

How do we understand Sefiras HaOmer in simple and practical terms? Many of us struggle with understanding Sefiras HaOmer for a few reasons. One reason for our difficulty in understanding this time period is because besides counting the days towards Shavuos, there is no specific concrete action that one is required to take to sanctify himself or to evoke a spiritual high. Second, the days of Sefirah are tinged with sadness because of the deaths of Rabbi Akiva’s students and the terrible massacres perpetuated by the Crusades during this time period. Most commentators view these issues as a contradiction, as on the one hand we are anticipating the receiving of the Torah, and on the other hand we are in a state of mourning.
Although much has been said and written to resolve this apparent contradiction, I would like to offer a fresh perspective on this issue. Let us examine a different period of mourning, which is the Three Weeks, the Nine Days, and Tisha Baav. The Chachamim instituted restrictions during that time period so that we can reflect on our loss of the Bais HaMikdash and the spiritual descent of the Jewish People throughout history. Commencing on the seventeenth of Tammuz, we begin a countdown towards Tisha B’Av. Do we wonder how we can countdown to something tragic, when we are simultaneously attempting to be inspired to become better people and that hopefully HaShem will have compassion on the Jewish People and restore the Bais HaMikdash as in days of yore?
Obviously there is no contradiction in that regard, because the closer we come to Tisha B’Av, the more we are sorrowed that we have not yet reached the level where we can have the Bais HaMikdash restored. In a similar vein, although we are saddened by the deaths of Rabbi Akiva’s students, we should certainly be inspired to improve our character and our relationships with fellow Jews, and then we will merit an uplifting Shavuos, when the Jewish People stood at Har Sinai and were united, as one man with one heart.

2 comments:

Moshe David Tokayer said...

The Kabbalists say that each week of the Sefira represents one of the seven lower sefiros. Each one of these sefiros has seven aspects as well, representing the seven lower sefiros. These are printed in most sidurim next to the day of the Sefira. (E.g. on day one, chessed shebechessed, day two gevurah shebechessed, etc.)

How does this help us practically as a way of preparing for Shavuous? Each of the seven lower sefiros corresponds to one of the seven primary emotional midos. The period between Pesach and Shavuous is the perfect time to work on improving these midos.

There is a wonderful sefer to which I was introduced this year called Usfartem Lachem. The author Rav Daniel Frisch ZT"L wrote this sefer to impart practical advice regarding what to be working on during this period of Sefiras HaOmer. He explains each day's sefira in relatively simple terms and gives various eitzos. It's a great sefer.

Rav Frisch, btw, wrote Masok MiDvash, a popular traditional commentary on the Zohar.

ben said...

thank you. Yes, I have heard of Rav Daniel Frisch zt"l