Darcey Walters

Olam Chesed Yibaneh – Sefirat HaOmer

On Pesach, God’s presence is revealed to us, thus why it is known as “HaLaila Hazeh,” and it all becomes tangible; we were presented with the many miracles of Yetziat Mitzrayim. But what came next? How do we go from Pesach to receiving the Torah on Shavuot?

The answer is Sefirat HaOmer, which is the bridge that binds together the two holidays. It is a bridge that binds together the beginning and end of redemption. Sefirat HaOmer teaches us something even deeper though, which is the importance of every day we have in this world. It is impossible to receive the Torah unless we count days, and it is important that every single day counts as something. It says famously in Shema: “take to heart these instructions which I command you today”. God commands, היום and to focus on the day we are living, with all our heart and everything we have. But that ַהיּוֹם , that today is what is so important. Rebbe Nachman teaches that God gives the mitzvah of counting days before the Torah was given because in order to really free ourselves from Mitzrayim and get out, we have to count our days and draw upon ourselves the truth and holiness.

As we count days, which turn into weeks, we focus on ourselves through seven specific middot. The Kedushat Levi says that this time is when we should rejoice and attach ourselves to these middot and make them a significant part of our lives. These seven middot, each representing one of the weeks counting to Shavuot are: chesed, gevurah, tiferet, netzach, hod, yesod and malchut.

Week One: Chesed

As the pasuk in Tehillim says, “the world is built on chesed” (Psalms 89:3). The world is built around the love God has for every single one of us, which is chesed. In addition, the pasuk in Mishlei says, “in all your ways you are to acknowledge Him” (Proverbs 3:6). The Kedushat Levi comments on this pasuk, indicating that all our activities should have as their ultimate aim to provide our Creator with satisfaction and pleasure. Therefore, ultimately, if you put two and two together, chesed is about our love for God, and God’s love for us.

The Jewish life cycle runs through chesed, with life and death, relationships, education, to name a few. As a child is born, to the brit milah of a baby boy, visiting and caring for those in need, marriage and relationships, and burial, these are all centered around chesed. It is through chesed that we give life, that we add to our Judaism and add to our connection with God. Every aspect of the life cycle should be about that love God has for us, and the love we have for Him, whether that comes in a spiritual or traditional way, for us individually or as a community.

Chesed is the foundation towards bigger things; we could call it a transformation. Through the life of Avraham Avinu, we see someone who emulated God’s attributes of peace and lovingkindness. The master of hospitality himself, “a tzadik gracious, and gives” (Psalms 37:21), he not only provided food for those in need but he pleaded for the wicked in Sedom. This takes us to the notion of davening; Avraham introduced prayer into our world! As the pasuk says: “and Avraham awoke in the morning to the place where he had stood, before God” (Genesis 19:27). The Gemara in Berakhot 26b interpets this pasuk, as “where he stood” implies that he stood silently in the presence of God which alludes to the shmoneh esrei. The goal of davening is to raise the middah of chesed, through our love for God and God’s love for us. Rebbe Nachman teaches that Moshiach will come only when everyone is distracted, because when we daven, we reach up through love, and it will then be that God’s salvation follows. That is chesed. That is chesed, when we take time to daven with a greater koach and redeem Godly consciousness and the consciousness of chesed.

I like to also think we can look at chesed as the center of Megillat Rut. The Megillah is centered around loyalty, people are treated equally and there is devotion to everything that everyone does. Simply put, the midrash comments that the scroll of Reut “contains neither laws of purity and impurity, nor laws regarding that which is prohibited and permitted. For what purpose, then, was it written? To demonstrate how great is the reward received by those who perform chesed” (Rut Rabba 2:14). There is definitely an allusion the midrash makes to the pasuk “her mouth is full of wisdom, her tongue with kind teachings” (Mishlei 31:26) which I think strongly portrays what we read in the Megillah. This chesed is one we haven’t explored yet, and is so important. The way we treat others and communicate with others is something classed as a chesed if we do it well. Speaking highly of others and only positively, not in a way that leads to negative speech. Further, we see the reward of those who do chesed, which is demonstrated by Rut who went to Eretz Yisrael to help her mother in law, harvesting and being a devoted individual to do things she would never normally do. We should always put aside our time, and go out there to make a difference even if it is doing something we aren’t used to in a place we aren’t familiar with. And as well as Rut, Boaz portrays chesed, greeting Rut with warmth and performs chesed for his own sake. Boaz compliments Rut, and that only links back to how we should speak highly of others through chesed.

In the sefer Likutei Halakhot (Orach Chaim), it talks about the connection with chesed and learning Torah. We know Avraham placed his tent on dry land which draws a deeper meaning. This dry land is where we locate his chesed, but this is the path we walk to find it and that is in fact learning Torah. We know the Torah was given in the desert, and we know when we learn Torah it can have a duality where sometimes it can be dry, and sometimes it can be oppressive. We come close to the Torah when we keep it, and learn it, and make it a part of our everyday, and whether that is during a dry period of our life or not, it allows us to come close to chesed. Immersing ourselves in Torah will create chesed as we expose ourselves to greater goals in life that come from the Torah. Furthermore, on the subject of Torah, we can think about what we say every day in davening “v’harev na Hashem Elokeinu et Divrei Toratecha”. This is about asking God to make the Torah in our lives sweet. Sfat Emet interprets this very interestingly, noting that we should mix the Torah we learn into our beings – that is what makes the Torah sweet. This couldn’t be more appropriate as we look at chesed. The Torah can only be sweet really once we focus on the traits we have and what we do as human beings. Looking at some of the examples we have spoken about, I like to think that giving to others and what we call “ahavat Yisrael” is relevant here, as one of the sweetest ways of learning Torah is sharing it with others. That is a chesed. Just like we can be hospitable with food and drink, we can be hospitable with sharing Torah which can too change someone’s life. That is what combines both of these ideals and is ‘sweet’.

Let us take the trait of chesed as we travel through Sefirat HaOmer and allow it to enhance our growth and understanding of who we are and what we can do in this world every single day.

About the Author
Darcey is from London, where she works in marketing, and invests her time in various Torah education initiatives, working independently and with various organisations. She is the founder of the "Desert Island Torah" podcast which has reached tens of thousands of people across the globe, in over 50 countries. Darcey has written many articles and two books, and is working on several other works to be published in 2024.
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