Right after the first day of Pesach, we enter a seven-week cycle known as S’firas HaOmer (the Counting of the Omer). The 49 days from Pesach to Shavuos really represent a journey of 49 steps to spiritual growth and emotional refinement that help us renew our acceptance of the Torah on an individual level.
On the first night of Pesach, it’s Hashem Who passes over and takes us out of our personal exile – even if only for a few moments. In those precious few hours on the Seder night, we have a greater ability to push aside all the fear, sadness, apathy, jealousy, and anger, and tap into a heaven-sent influx of emunah. In the process, we strengthen our belief that change can happen – that we are not, in fact, alone – that Hashem can (and will) give us the strength, clarity, and resolve to leave our own spiritual and emotional Mitzrayim. Why?
Because each one of us was brought into this world with an important and unique role to fulfill within it: As David HaMelech says in T’hilim: “He sent from on high, He took me; He drew me out of many waters. He delivered me from my strong enemy, and from those who hated me, for they were too mighty for me… He brought me forth into an open place; He delivered me, because He desired me” (T’hilim 18:20). That simple belief alone is the beginning of the y’shuah. But to get there, we have to want to be saved in the first place.
After the first night of Pesach, the work begins. Day-by-day, step-by-step, we take all the inspiration of Seder night and use it to climb up the mountain to Kabalas HaTorah.
But aside from Torah and mitzvos, there are two things we need to have in place to make those steps count and to achieve real growth:
- We need to know where we are going. What in a practical sense are we working towards each day and every week of the Omer? The holiday of Shavuos is not just about accepting Torah and mitzvos in a general sense. The real goal of the spiritual preparation and growth during S’firas HaOmer is to build a vessel to accept and be more in tune with the light of our personal portion in the Torah. This means developing our connection with ourselves and our unique tafkid in the world and being aware to the best of our abilities of the blocks and obstacles that stand in the way.
- We need to have a dynamic, living, breathing relationship with Hashem, since without His assistance, growth on any level in this world is impossible. (How can you tell if you have such a relationship? One sign is that you can, and regularly do, speak to Hashem in your own words, not just from a siddur.)
According to the Baal Shem Tov, Hashem leads the world like a compassionate mother who is trying to teach her small, tender child how to walk. She first stands him up on his feet, makes sure he’s steady, and then distances herself from him a little so he can get used to walking on his own. And as he gets closer to her with small, stuttered steps, she once again pulls away, ever so slightly, encouraging him to walk a bit further.
So, too, the light of Hashem in our lives may be revealed to us a little bit one minute, then be hidden from us the next. Hashem is teaching us how to walk. He is getting us used to strengthening ourselves and coming closer to k’dushah (holiness) on our own – even when the path ahead seems dark, obscured, and full of obstacles. (Sheim MiShmuel, V’Zos HaBrachah)
We learn two things from this mashal:
Sometimes we can experience a great his’or’rus (awakening) and be overcome with the desire and motivation to do and be better, to change and grow. But then this inspiration goes away – often as suddenly as it came. It’s not always that we did something wrong or that we’ve somehow fallen. Many times we’ve only reached a new high level in our spiritual and emotional growth, and now Hashem is just pulling away a bit so that we can take what we’ve learned and experienced and use it to go even further.
When a small child who is learning how to walk falls down, his mother will rush over, pick him up, give him a hug and a kiss and some encouragement, then stand him up on his two feet once again.
The same is true with us. When we do make mistakes and we’ve fallen, when we are at our lowest points in life, Hashem is actually very near, waiting to pick us up and help us to move forward. Times like these can be a tremendous eis ratzon (favorable time) for t’shuvah! If we’d only recognize and admit our mistakes and yearn to improve, if we’d only ask Hashem for assistance at such moments, that’s when miracles happen.
But if instead of turning to Hashem, we fly into a storm of depression, denial, fear, apathy, or anger, we push Hashem away and, with it, compromise our ability to stand on our own two feet and make meaningful change in our lives.
This very personal process of growth and refinement is what S’firas HaOmer is all about. Each of the 49 days offers a different angle and a different lesson on the same journey – a journey that is unique to each individual. Every time that we tap into the spiritual influence of the day to make a small step closer to who we could be, we come that much closer to receiving our unique portion of the Torah the world is waiting for us to reveal.
(Material was previously published on www.ShiratMiriam.com.)