The psukim say: “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. Until the morrow of the seventh week you shall count fifty days and you shall offer a new meal offering to Hashem” (Vayikra 23:15-16)
A very appropriate subject for the time we are in, and I wanted to look at a few approaches which can give a broader understanding to this mitzvah, that may not be what one would typically associate the mitzvah with.
1) Rabbi Akiva’s students. The Gemara (Yevamot 62b) tells us that Rabbi Akiva’s students died because they did not treat each other with respect. This is probably the most traditional and well-known approach to understanding the first half of Sefirat HaOmer and it’s prohibitions set because this is a time of mourning. There is also a message from this to treat people with respect, which we uncovered in last weeks parsha.
If we read the psukim again, we need to understand that this mitzvah is a lot more than Rabbi Akiva’s students. The Omer period is definitely about working on ourselves, but it is also counting from Pesach to Shavuot. So, let’s take our approaches a bit further.
2) From Shir HaShirim to Megillat Reut. At the end of Pesach we read the Megillah of Shir HaShirim. This is about a love story which goes to failure, and that is reflected by the nature described in the story. The fig trees are green (Shir HaShirim 2:13) which means they aren’t very ripe and in process. There are no grapes, only a scent of them. This is symbolic of a few things. At this time of the year, we are counting the Omer in order to ripen ourselves as human beings, ripen what we want to improve for ourselves as we count up in days, and we count up in days to a field which is cut and harvested perfectly. That is perfect nature. What else is perfect nature? Torah! We are counting up for things to ripen in our lives so that we can get to a piece of clarity and perfect nature of receiving the Torah, reflected by the scenes of perfect harvest in Megillat Reut which we read on Shavuot. Megillat Reut is also about redemption and geulah, and so once again, we have another great message which is that we can ripen towards reaching geulah, seeing the birth of Moshiach. This is one approach to counting the Omer. Ripening ourselves to reach that perfect state and relationship on Shavuot.
3) Yaakov’s Dream. The time of Sefirat HaOmer is about us climbing our own ladder to reach something greater, which of course is Torah on Shavuot, and part of that climb is about working on ourselves and looking for ways to be the best versions of ourselves. We climb our own ladder aiming to get closer to God and eventually get to Har Sinai, which is similarly established in the Midrash on the subject of Yaakov’s dream. The midrash tells us that Har Sinai was connecting Heaven and Earth on this ladder. Yaakov obtained a lot of Torah ‘in that place’ (Bereishit 28:11) before the dream which led to Sinai. Isn’t it interesting to picture this as something we are doing right now in our own lives and how we should approach the Omer? Because right now we are trying to grow through obtaining as much learning as we can to work on ourselves, and we climb the ladder which (hopefully) leads to Har Sinai too! Furthermore, when Yaakov awoke from his dream, he said “surely God is present in this place, and I did not know!” (Bereishit 28:16). Yaakov was able to get close to God and God illuminated Yaakov with His presence. We too are supposed to come closer to God as we strive to get to Har Sinai on Shavuot and find that connection as we climb our own ladder.
As we travel through the Omer period, let us take these approaches and allow them to help us ripen as human beings, and grow as human beings in a way that connects us between the seven weeks of Pesach leading into Shavuot.