Iyar: Redirection and Sanctification

Nov 17, 2014
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Sefirat Haomer and Changing Character
During the Omer, the 49 day period between Pesach and Shavuot, Jews have traditionally focused on character development. Our middot shiurim will share this focus during these weeks approaching Shavuot.

Redirection and Sanctification
The “Omer” itself was a barley sacrifice offered on the morning of the second day of Pesach. “Counting the Omer” (Sefirat Haomer) refers to the mitzvah to count the days and weeks following the Omer sacrifice. In the Shem Mishmuel Haggada, Rav Shmuel Bornshtein zt:”l the Sochotchover Rebbe, teaches about the unique avoda (service) of this period.

He builds on a number of significant points:

The “omer” is a barley sacrifice. Most of the grain sacrifices are brought from wheat. The only other barley sacrifice brought is that of the sota woman suspected of adultery by her husband. Why barley?
Part of the omer sacrifice involved lifting it. What is the significance of lifting?

Sacrifices
What is the point of sacrifices in general? As a rule, sacrifices involve redirecting our natural and physical powers towards holiness and service of G-d. The Shem Mishmuel refers to this with the ancient term, “turning darkness into light.” Different sacrifices relate to different areas of life.

Animal sacrifices relate to the very intense area of our lusts, desires, and will. Turning our animal side into light would involve, for instance, using the drives of the yetzer hara (evil inclination) towards Torah learning, to fill it with life and fire. Wheat sacrifices relate to the area of intelligence and wisdom.Wheat is connected to this area, as the Sages say, a baby doesn’t begin to call to his father until he starts to eat grains. Redirecting wisdom means taking natural wisdom and intelligence and redirecting it to wisdom of the Divine.

Barley is considered animal feed. The animal’s character is subjugation, nullification and lowering of one’s self. The sota woman lowered herself and docilely followed her evil inclination, “did something animal-like,” and therefore offers a sacrifice of animal feed.
The Omer
The Omer period, following the barley sacrifice on the second day of Pesach, is devoted to correcting, redirecting and sanctifying the trait of self-nullification and subjugation (hachna’a). However, utilizing this trait is potentially very dangerous. Lowliness can come very close to depression and unhealthy sadness, one of the most problematic of inner states. Subjugating one’s self to others can destroy independence and lead to determining behavior by social opinion – against the Shulchan Arukh’s warning, “Do not be embarrassed in the face of those who ridicule [your service of G-d]”. Yet nullification to G-d is an essential characteristic. Subjugation to G-d is part of being His servant. Lowliness is essential for real humility. How can one tread this fine line – acquiring lowliness, subjugation and nullification without drifting into depression or losing personal independence?

This is where the Omer comes in. The Omer is timed right after the first day of Pesach where love for G-d and joy in His redemption are at a high pitch. This is the time to work on redirecting and sanctifying the traits of lowliness, subjugation, and nullification. Then, we are able to negate ourselves and the whole world before G-d, yet retain boldness and (positive) tough-mindedness. The danger of sinking into despair or dependence is at a minimum.

We are then able to “lift up” – redirect and sanctify – the “Omer” – the animal-like trait of subjugation (symbolized by the animal feed sacrifice) without becoming docile or depressed. This is summed up in a three-word comment on the first paragraph of Hallel (also called Hallel Mitzrayim). “Praise [Him] servants of G-d,” we say in Hallel – and not servants of Pharaoh. Up until now you were slaves to Pharaoh and from now on you are servants of G-d (Mekhilta). During this period we are able to accomplish this difficult and delicate task – redirecting and sanctifying the trait of nullification, lowliness, and subjugation.

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