It has been nearly a month since the last time I shared some insights before Shabbat, and I am glad to get back into the habit of sharing something with you weekly. What a perfect time to get back into the swing of things, this season of the counting of the omer, and what a perfect week to do so with Parashat Emor.
Parashat Emor contains the commandment to count the omer:
Count for yourselves from the day after [the Passover festival], from theday which you will bring the waved omer, seven weeks which will be complete. -Lev
While it is interesting to understand how we came to an understanding that the phrase ha’shabbat in this verse does not refer to Shabbat itself, but to the Passover festival, we will not discuss this at length here, so just take it from me that the Jewish tradition has understood that to be the case for generations and generations, and for good reason. What I am more interested in right now is this language of “for yourselves.” This is reminiscent of the commandment to keep a calendar, “This month will be for you…,” (Ex. 12:1). Why is God commanding us to count is a question to be asked, but specifically, what is meant by being required to count for ourselves? Seemingly, there is some inherent personal value or benefit in this counting, so what is it?
The Or Ha’Hayim, Rabbi Hayim ibn Atar, an 18th century Moroccan mystic whom we’ve learned from in these emails before, has a wonderful insight derived from the Zohar. He teaches that, “From the perspective (taught in the Zohar) that we were in the ritual-impurity of Mitzrayim, Hashem wanted to purify this nation, so they are judged according to the law of niddah (the laws regarding a menstruant woman), who has to count seven days in ritual-purity (before being intimate with her husband). So Hashem commanded that they should count seven weeks and then they would be fit (kosher) to enter like a bride under the huppah. Just like there are seven days (for niddah), there are seven weeks (for the counting of the omer between Passover – leaving Mitzrayim – and Shavuot – standing at Sinai.”