Sefirat HaOmer and Parashat Shemini- Make Sefirah Count!
9. Among all [creatures] that are in the water, you may eat these: Any [of the creatures] in the water that has fins and scales, those you may eat, whether [it lives] in the waters, in the seas or in the rivers.
ט. אֶת זֶה תֹּאכְלוּ מִכֹּל אֲשֶׁר בַּמָּיִם כֹּל אֲשֶׁר לוֹ סְנַפִּיר וְקַשְׂקֶשֶׂת בַּמַּיִם בַּיַּמִּים וּבַנְּחָלִים אֹתָם תֹּאכֵלוּ:
What makes a fish Kasher? Fins and Scales. Yet, among all the special traits of kosher fish that the Torah HaKedoshah instructs us about, the Ramban reveals to us even one more distinguishing factor that kosher fish have that others don’t. Even though the water that fish swim in is oxygenated throughout the entire sea, only kosher fish swim up to the top for fresh water, the rest stay near the bottom of the sea and are content where they are.
Just like kosher fish, we must be moving, we must be striving upward, we must be searching for fresh water. We cannot stagnate and be content that way. We must constantly be growing.
The Me’am Loez brings a miderash that tells us that HaShem appoints a malakh, an angel, over every living creature, even single blades of grass, to hit each one and tell it to grow. Sometimes, we need to be hit to grow; we are naturally resistant to growth. Unless we are moved out of our comfort zone, we usually do not have much motivation to reassess and change ourselves. Pirkei Avot teach us that on the first Erev Shabbat during Beriat HaOlam, Creation, ten things were created. Among them was a special wormlike creature called the shamir, which was used to cut the wood used in the Mishkan, since iron tools were not permitted to be used. What was special about this shamir is that any time it was placed on wood, it would move around quickly and cut straight through, however, anytime it was placed on a comfortable, soft cloth or fabric, it would sit there leisurely and not move. We move, we change, we grow when we feel discomfort. When we are too comfortable, we feel, well, comfortable, and have no motivation to move. Sometimes, we need to be hit to grow.
The period of Sefirat haOmer that we are in now is a time for potential inner growth. On each of the 49 days, we have the opportunity to refine our middot and to work on our own personal character. This time, we don’t have to be hit to grow. With a little bit of an awareness and some effort, we can motivate ourselves to change, grow and develop on our own without having to wait for life’s necessary hardships to give us that push.
According to the Kabbalah, each of the seven weeks of Sefirat haOmer corresponds to one of the seven lower Sefirot (characteristics by which HaKadosh Barukh Hu reveals Himself in this world; there are ten total Sefirot). They are: Hesed (lovingkindness), Gevurah (justice and discipline), Tipheret (harmony, compassion), Nessah (endurance), Hod (humility), Yesod (bonding) and Malkhut (sovereignty, leadership). Each day of each week is also associated with one of these same seven sefirot, creating a total of forty-nine permutations, one for each day of the Sefirat haOmer. Symbolically, each of these 49 permutations represents an aspect of each person's character that can be improved or further developed before we can be fitting to receive the Torah HaKedoshah on Shavuot (below is a chart taken from http://www.nishmathayyim.org/teachings10.php illustrating this concept).
If we look at the style of counting the Sefirat haOmer, we realize that we are not counting down the days down from Pesah to Shavuot, when we received the Torah. In fact, we are doing just the opposite! Each day, we add on a day that passed to our counting. ‘Today is one day to the Omer, two days to the Omer, three days to the Omer….’ A kallah during her engagement doesn’t count how many days have passed since she and her hatan have been engaged. She is excited! She counts the days down to her wedding day in deep anticipation! ‘Five days left, four days left, three days left….ONE HOUR LEFT!’ If we are so excited to reach Matan Torah, the pinnacle of our relationship to Ribono Shel Olam as an entire nation, wouldn’t you think that we’d be counting down to that day just like HaShem’s kallah? But instead we count each day that has passed since Pesah. Why?
When we count each and every day that has passed, the focus lays on how much we have been past, on how much we have accomplished. We don’t look at how much development we are lacking until we reach the big 49, we focus on each stride that we made thus far, how many singular days we have already experienced. This is very empowering to a person. Sometimes, we feel discouraged because we think we will never make it, or we are not even worthy to reach something of the caliber of Matan Torah. But this is not true! Each and every day of the Sefirah gives us something to work on! We count each day that we have accomplished, not how many unaccomplished days we have left to take care of! Sefirah is not just about keeping count of the days, it is about keeping account of what we have accomplished in those days.
Be’Ezrat HaShem, during these 49 days, and during the remainder of the year, may we be zokhim to constant positive change and growth. May we be like the kosher fish in the sea who are always moving upward to take in fresh water and not like the non-kosher ones who are satisfied where they currently stand (swim). May this Sefirat HaOmer be a catalyst for self-motivated change and growth and that we shouldn’t have to wait for a malakh, or anything else to hit us as a reminder for this responsibility. May we be zokhim to keep the entire Torah Kulah as if we are receiving it directly as we did during Matan Torah!
Shabbat Mevarkhim Shalom uMevorakh!!!!
Based on the uplifting and inspirational teachings of Rebbetsin Ginzburg, Rebbetsin Kalazan, and Rebbetsin Stern. Barukh HaShem that we can always count on them for beautiful shiurim! ;D
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