2 Tishrei 5781 / Sunday, September 20, 2020 | Torah Reading: Rosh Hashana
 
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Counting the Omer    

Counting the Omer



True freedom, which includes liberty from social pressure and bodily urges, comes only from Torah. The Counting of the Omer is our countdown to discovering ourselves...

 



During the interim 49 days the first day of Passover and Shavuot, we count the Omer in preparation for receiving the Torah.
 
"By virtue of the Omer that I counted today…may I be purified and sanctified with the sanctity from above, and may this cause an influence of great abundance in all the worlds"(Seder Sfirat HaOmer, terminating prayer).
 
At the conclusion of each night's counting of the Omer, we ask God that we be purified and sanctified. We also say that our purification and sanctification triggers an influence of tremendous abundance in all the worlds – both material and spiritual.
 
Before attempting to comprehend the above principles, we have to realize that at Pesach, the people of Israel are likened to a nation of newly redeemed slaves. Not only were we newly redeemed slaves at the time of our exodus from Egypt, but every year at Pesach we are as if we have just been released from our bonds of slavery. Pesach is the furthest time of the year from Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur, when all of Israel repents from awe of God. Over the long winter months, we drop our guard and fall slaves to our bodily urges and appetites.
 
At Pesach time, we complete a process of physically cleaning our domains from chometz, leavened agents, and begin a spiritual process of cleaning our hearts in preparation for true freedom – receiving the Torah. Teshuva, repentance, is cleansing the heart from all evil.
 
True freedom, which includes liberty from social pressure and bodily urges, comes only from Torah. Therefore, although we break off the chains of bondage at Pesach, we're not really free until we receive the Torah 50 days later on Shavuot. During the interim 49 days, we count the Omer in preparation for receiving the Torah. Reb Natan of Breslev says that each of the 49 days corrects a character attribute that corresponds to the 48 ways of attaining Torah (see tractate Avot, 6:6 for the entire list), while the 49th day serves as a correction to our prayers.
 
Reb Nosson writes (Abridged Likutei Moharan 63:2) that the 49 days of the Omer also correspond to the 49 gates of teshuva. By reciting Tehillim (Psalms) every day, we can open each gate of teshuva. Therefore, concludes Reb Nosson, it is extremely important to recite Tehillim during each day of the Omer.
 
Reb Nosson's principle of Tehillim and teshuva explains how the purification of our souls during the days of the Omer invokes abundance in all the worlds, as we shall see – with God's grace – in the following parable from our book, Chassidic Pearls:
 
Yashka the farmer worked excruciatingly hard to prepare his field for the spring corn planting. His hands were scarred and bloody from gripping the leather reigns that held his mighty ox in a straight line while plowing a furrow and every muscle of his straining back would cry out in pain. When the field was finally prepared for sowing, he'd lovingly place each seed in the ground as if it were a cherished gem. After all that, Yashka would pray for the blessing of rain that would trigger seed germination and subsequent growth.
 
While weeding the furrows, Yashka derived tremendous satisfaction from the stout young corn plants; the lush green stalks made all the hard work worthwhile. He looked forward to the expected bumper crop, but his joy was short-lived. Just as the fertilized corn flowers turned to baby seed cobs, the crows appeared. The minute Yashka saw the cawing black feathered menaces descend on his field, he ran out of his thatch-roofed house with a pitchfork in his hand, chasing away the crows.
 
No sooner would Yashka leave the field, and the crows would reappear. Disgusted, he erected a scarecrow in the middle of the field. The scarecrow repelled the crows for a day or two, but as soon as the clever birds realized that the straw-filled dummy with Yashka's old hat and shirt was both harmless and inanimate, they again descended on the crop.
 
This time, Yashka outsmarted them. His corn field was exposed to the prevailing breezes from all directions. Yashka carved a special flute out of a reed; then, he put the flute in the scarecrow's mouth. Every few minutes, the wind would blow; when it passed through the flute, it would create an amazing tooting sound in three different octaves that scared the crows away. By virtue of the flute, Yashka reaped a full crop of golden yellow corn.
 
Our Pesach preparations resemble Yashka's plowing and preparing of his corn field. The interim of the growth days between sowing and harvest correspond to the counting of the Omer. Just as Yashka's harvest was corn, the harvest of the Jewish people is Torah. The crows, symbolic of temptations and bodily appetites, must be repelled for us to truly merit receiving the Torah on Shavuot. Often, we feel like a scarecrow, with no spiritual vitality. Through reciting Tehillim, we become spiritually vibrant and can scare away temptations; the Tehillim – like a magical flute in a scarecrow's mouth - enable us to properly make teshuva and receive the Torah.
 
By virtue of Tehillim, we merit teshuva, subsequently purifying and sanctifying ourselves. With teshuva, we bring Torah into this world, together with all the accompanying material and spiritual abundance for all people everywhere. Also, when we receive the Torah, we become a truly free people, for there is no freedom without Torah (Avot 6:2). May this year be a year of freedom, abundance, and the true redemption of our people, amen.
 




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