These and Those

Musings from Students of the Pardes Institute of Jewish Studies in Jerusalem

49 Steps

Posted on April 8, 2013 by Jeff Amshalem

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From my blog:
Marc Chagall’s “Wedding”

Marc Chagall’s “Wedding”

Excerpts from R. Ze’ev Wolf of Zhitomir’s teachings on Counting the Omer, from Or haMeir.

וּסְפַרְתֶּם לָכֶם מִמָּחֳרַת הַשַּׁבָּת מִיּוֹם הֲבִיאֲכֶם אֶת עֹמֶר הַתְּנוּפָה שֶׁבַע שַׁבָּתוֹת

Count for yourselves, from the morrow of the rest day from the day you bring the omer as a wave offering, seven weeks. Leviticus 23:16

The essence of the Counting of the Omer between Pesach and Shavuot is to mend the seven attributes (1), to bring to them a holy awareness. When you have done this, making yourself into a complete image of the divine in all of your ways, in holiness and purity, then the Shekhinah, in whose image you are made, is also mended. Then we are fit to be God’s, and God to be ours, like a bride ready to enter the wedding canopy…

When your deeds are made good, then you will merit to hear in the plain talk of one person to another words of Torah and advice on how to serve God. This is truly the highest of levels, to have such a clarity as this, and you cannot achieve it unless you seek to refine yourself with all of your soul and all of your might, down to the particulars of your senses and your limbs, purifying and sanctifying them to the service of God, doing nothing, performing no single act nor making any motion, not even lifting your hand or your foot or opening your eyes or your ears, that is not in some way for the sake of the Shekhinah…

Thus God commanded usefartem lachem, “count for yourselves” — sefartem means not only count but “purify” and “clarify,” for yourselves, for your own sake and your own purification, that you may merit the enlightenment of the Torah, beyond which there is no greater delight nor joy.

  1. The seven attributes are seven qualities found in both God and us, and are also identified with the seven lower sefirot. In Hebrew they are most frequently called (from top to bottom) Hesed, Gevurah, Tiferet, Netzach, Hod, Yesod, and Malkhut. In the context of character traits these might be translated (loosely) as boundless compassion, setting limits, discerning compassion, steadfastness, humility, knowing your role, and the ability to manifest all of these qualities in daily life. Each of the seven weeks of the Omer is given over to working on one of these traits, and each day within that week to developing one of these aspects of each trait (for example, maintaining compassion in the most difficult circumstances, or setting limits in a humble way). So the Counting of the Omer becomes a “49-step Program” from Freedom to Responsibility and from Degradation to Purity.