Parshat Emor

Torah Reading for Week of April 29 – May 5, 2018

By Rabbi Elisheva Beyer, ’06

The views expressed in this drash are those of the author. We welcome Torah insights and teachings from all viewpoints, and encourage dialogue to strengthen the diversity of our academy.

“You shall count for yourselves – from the day after the day of rest, from the day when you bring the omer of the waving – seven weeks, they shall be complete.  Until the day after unto the seventh week you shall count, fifty days; and you shall offer a new meal-offering to G-d.”  Lev. 23:15-16, Parshat Emor.

According to Torah and our Sages, we are to count the forty-nine days from the second day of Passover (a “rest” day) until Shavuot.  In ancient times, the counting was the time period between when the new crop of barley was offered on the altar on the second day of Passover until when two loaves of wheat bread were offered seven weeks later.  The specific amount of barley brought was about two quarts, called an “omer.” Until the Omer offering is brought to the altar, any grain planted within the past year (from the 16th of Nissan) could not be eaten. 

This time period has been refocused by our Sages to a time for meaningful opportunity to grow our souls.  As with everything in Torah, layers of deep spiritual meaning are infused into it.  Let’s take a look at some of the layers and what they meanings.  Passover is the time of leaving Egypt (Mitzra’im, in Hebrew, meaning narrow places) where we were slaves.  When we leave there, we must let go of our chametz, metaphorically identified as ego, and also signified by the barley offering.  In the eyes of the ancients, barley was seen as more of an animal food, rather than wheat which was considered more appropriate for humans.  Our ego is considered to be our animalistic nature – the selfish desires to do what is only best for ourselves.  We need to let go of completely selfish desires in order to grow spiritually.  Thus, our barley offering (animal-nature) is put on G-d’s altar. Then we begin transforming ourselves until the time when we can become a partner with the Holy One.  In this instance, the partnership is literally shown in the process of making wheat into bread and coincides with receiving Torah.    

Omer (עמר a measurement of barley) and yakar (יקר meaning precious) have the same gematria (the letters add up to the same numbers).[1]  Thus, according to our Sages, this seven week time period is to be treasured.  Within it, we have an opportunity to accelerate our spiritual growth.  Following the guidance of our Sages, during the Omer, we focus on various personality traits, as noted in kabbalistic texts.  On each of the forty-nine days of Sefirat HaOmer (“Counting of the Omer”), we refine, develop and illuminate another aspect of our soul.  Each day of the sefirah has a specific facet of our personality for us to examine.  It is designed as a time to refine our emotions, rather than being driven by them.  In this way, we prepare ourselves to receive Torah on Shavuot. 

According to R’ DovBer, the Maggid of Mezeritch, sefirah, “counting,” also means “illumination.”  These forty-nine days are a bridge between the slavery of Egypt and Shavuot, a time when we are able to forge a contract with G-d and receive Torah.  Shavuot is the fiftieth day and the time of receiving Torah:  the time when we receive G-d’s blueprint for how to live our lives.

[1] From the writings of the Ari, according to the Mei HaShiloach, Parshat Emor.