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Pirkei Avot Chapter 2

  Shalom and Bracha!

  This Shabbat we read the portion of Emor which discusses the Mitzvah of Sefirat Haomer (counting of the Omer). On the second day of Passover, a special barley offering was brought in the Temple, the Korban Haomer. This was the celebration of the first new grain crop of the year, and the new harvest was not allowed to be eaten until the Korban Haomer was brought. This teaches us that any new blessing or gift we receive should first be used in the service of Hashem. The word Omer is a measurement of grain, approximately 2 quarts. From the day when the Omer was brought, the Torah commands that we count 49 days until the next holiday, which is Shavuot when we received the Torah. Shavuot means weeks. On Shavuot another special offering was brought, two Challot from the new wheat crop.

  The Midrash teaches that we received the Mitzvah of counting the Omer as a reward for our anxiousness to receive the Torah. When the Jewish people left Egypt, they were so imbued with anticipation that they counted the days until the Torah was given. In merit of their counting, we were given the Mitzvah of Sefirat Haomer. This teaches us that our approach towards a Mitzvah should not be feeling burdened, but rather joy and anticipation. The joy in fulfilling Mitzvot is as important as the Mitzvah itself.

  The Mitzvah of Sefirat Haomer has a deep message. The Mitzvah consists of counting days. The Torah teaches us that we must make every day count. Every single day we should reach a level higher and bring the world a step closer to perfection. This is also hinted in the manner in which we count. Rather than counting “this is the thirty-fourth day,” we count “this is thirty four days.” This teaches us that each day we have the accomplishments of the previous days combined with the new heights of today. The word Sefirah has another meaning, which is illumination. By counting the days as we should, we bring illumination into every aspect of the world.

  Sefirah also means narration. Each day has a special message. This is particularly pertinent to the month of Iyar, which begins today (Thursday) and during which we count the Omer every day. Iyar is an abbreviation of Avraham, Yitzchak, Yaakov and Rachel. Each day is a unique opportunity to connect to our forefathers and mothers, learn from their wonderful traits, emulate them, and reaffirm our heritage.

The Omer is from barley, which is fit for humans but also animal fodder. The two Challot are from wheat, which is the food of man. By filling each day, illuminating each day, and distinguishing each day, we reach out full human potential.

  When the Torah describes the counting of the Omer, there is an apparent contradiction. The Torah says count seven weeks and also says to count fifty days. In fact, we count forty-nine days and celebrate the fiftieth day as Shavuot. Chassidic teachings explain that there are fifty gates of wisdom, forty-nine of which can be attained through human effort. Through attaining the heights that we can reach through counting forty-nine days, Hashem grants us the fiftieth gate. Since this is connected with our efforts, it is as though we counted and illuminated all fifty gates.

  Each day, after we count the Omer, we pray for the rebuilding of the Temple. May Hashem answer our prayers and illuminate these days with the light of Moshiach!

  Shabbat Shalom,

 Rabbi Biggs

Dedicated to Stephen Milstein on the occasion of his birthday. May Hashem grant him a wonderful and blessed year

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