There is little question that the period of Sefiras HaOmer is one of the most confusing on the Jewish calendar. Whereas the celebrations and emotions that are proper on various other key dates on the Jewish calendar are clear, this seems not to be the case during Sefiras HaOmer. Mourning over the deaths of students, excitement over the impending giving of the Torah, wheat and the korban omer, and still other ideas are all both simultaneously right and wrong focuses during this time period.
Feeling a connection to, say, Aseres Yemei Teshuvah is rather easy to do as it’s clear what one is supposed to be doing during that time. During Sefiras HaOmer, however, when the focus and goal is less clear, establishing any meaningful connection to the time period is difficult. Even with many people’s refraining from shaving and listening to music, it’s difficult to truly connect to the unclear reasons that lay behind such restrictions.
Still, the period of Sefiras HaOmer is rather unique due to its length. Nowhere else on the Jewish calendar is there such a long stretch of time under a single rubric, throughout which we clearly demarcate and acknowledge a change and progression.
Given all the above, R. Moshe Benovitz1 points out a number of obvious, but nevertheless deeply meaningful ideas pertaining to Sefiras HaOmer that are often overlooked . Indeed, their simplicity is what makes them so powerful. There are two key concepts that emerge from the structure of Sefiras HaOmer that could and should be a major focus for us all during this time period.
The first concept that so clearly emerges from Sefiras HaOmer is the fact that the events in our lives do not occur in a vacuum, but are instead intimately bound up with and connected to that which came before, and that which shall come after. This is to say, in simpler terms, one thing very much leads to another. Actions have repercussions and consequences — both good and bad — and we have a duty to be acutely aware of this.
Indeed, halacha recognizes the importance of establishing a connection between two important things, with concepts such as smicha geulah l’tefillah, a real, operating halachic concept that actually overrides other halachic concerns. The idea that things are so often connected, that we have a duty to see them as such, and that establishing connections has great merit, carries a lot of weight in Judaism. There needs to be a unity and continuity in our avodas HaShem.
Of course, this idea of connection is never more prevalent than during the overarching structure of Sefiras HaOmer. The idea of connecting the actions of yesterday to those of today is not only how we are meant to work on ourselves during this time, but is also representative of what we should be working on. We should strive to be consistent people, with a clear unity and continuum to our lives. This is one of the great lessons of Sefiras HaOmer.
Yesterday, Today, & Tomorrow
Besides Sefiras HaOmer, there is no other point on the Jewish calendar when we can point to a day and proclaim that we are doing a bit more today that we did yesterday, and will do a bit more tomorrow than we do today. That simple progression, easily charted, is the ultimate expression of Sefiras HaOmer. Almost never are we capable of graphing a straight-line progression in our lives, yet this is the essential task of Sefiras HaOmer. It is also, though, a crucial idea in our service of God, and talmud Torah in particular.
We cannot jump to the next step before we have completed taking the one we are in the middle of right now. We cannot turn the page until we have finished reading, and understanding the one currently before us. How many times in our lives do we learn the same halachos, hear the same interesting tidbit or fact, or get taught the same information, only to forget it each time? We cannot move on until we have fully processed what is at hand. Indeed, none other than Pirkei Avos (4:22) prescribes a steadily advancing curriculum in which complete mastery of one subject must precede the taking on of another. Much like training to run a marathon — adding a slight increase in distance each day, until running a marathon becomes possible as each prior distance becomes more and more natural — so too, must there be a clear, slow, and steady progression in one’s avodas HaShem.
The ideal that the structure of Sefiras HaOmer teaches is to build upon a foundation one level at a time, to be able to say each day that we are slightly better than yesterday, and that we hope to be slightly better still tomorrow.
1. Heard in-person during a shiur on the subject.↩