By Larry Krane
Everything in Jewish tradition comes to teach us a deep lesson in being.
When the Jewish people left Egypt, they were on the lowest level of spirituality. Had they slipped one level lower, they would not have been able to ever leave the slave mentality. On Passover, G-d performed such great and wondrous miracles that the Jews were able to realize the omnipotence of G-d in the world.
This realization (as we note from reading the Torah) did not last very long. In a very short time the new Jewish nation, with the creation of the golden calf, fell into idolatry. The reason was simply that their intellect and character had been impression-ized by the idolatry of Egypt from whence they came.
The purpose of their leaving the idolatry of Egypt was to receive the holy Torah and become a holy nation. However when they left Egypt, the Jews had not acquired a state of being to permit them to achieve this lofty and holy goal.
In order to purify their minds and character, it required a process in which their being would be transformed into a pure and holy being.
This purification process was the forty-nine days between Passover, the leaving of Egypt, and the festival of Shavuot, the time of receiving of the Torah. This is hinted by the two offerings that were brought, one on the Passover and the other on Shavuot holiday. On the Passover, the offering brought to the Temple was made of barley, a food for man and animal alike – a hint to the level of man equaling that of an animal. The offering during the Shavuot holiday was one of wheat – not an animal food, but rather the food of man. This hints to the growth process changing man’s character from that of an animal to a much loftier one, that of man.
During this time, each of the days are divided up into seven groups of seven "midot" (characteristics) into which these seven were divided into seven "midot" again.
These "midot" were revealed to us by the mystical masters of Kabbalah and Chassidism. The seven midot are:
Kindness, free giving
Balance of the above, Harmony
Endurance and Prevailing
Awe and Splendor
Bonding and giving
According to the masters of the Kabballah, each of the above midot must be able to coexist with the other. For example, Chesed, kindness and giving, must coexist with Gevura, restraint – two opposites. Yet in a mature person, he must live with opposite desires and drives. This is also required for holiness in this world.
An immature mind has difficulty accepting contradictions and views them as an affront. There is an intolerance that causes him to reject all that he can not accept as irrelevant or in err.
We, on one side are to give our complete allegiance to G-d, yet we must live our lives in a world that does not recognize our spiritual side. Just the opposite, the world denies our spiritual side. It is in just this dichotomy that we must spend our lives.
Each day as we count the Omer, we work on polishing one of these midot. Each day a new midot is included in the count. In the prayer books of the mystics and Chassidim, the midot that is to be improved is printed together with the specific day.
This is also the repair that would have been necessary for the pupils of Rabbi Akiva. Each one of his students found it impossible to accept his friend’s understanding of Rabbi Akiva’s teachings. He felt that his understanding was correct and therefore it was inconceivable that his friend could have a proper insight. This was the lack of ability to coexist with an opposite opinion.
Therefore, the repair that we do during the period of the Omer, we are making that very repair that the students of Rabbi Akiva should have made during this time. We are also making the repair that the Jews who left Egypt made in order to leave the mental structure that gave credence to idolatry. Through our counting of the Omer and accepting the co-existence of opposite characteristics, we are making that very repair that was lacking at this time in ancient years.
And indeed, this is the very important groundwork that must be done before anyone is capable of achieving any level of holiness in this world. This is the message of the Omer.
from the April 2002 Edition of the Jewish Magazine