Following the assassination a month earlier of Tzar Alexander II of Russia, and the subsequent rumors that the Jews were behind the assassination, anti-Jewish riots broke out on the 6th of Iyar. The riots and pogroms lasted for four years, during which time thousands of Jewish homes and synagogues were destroyed, and countless Jews were injured and impoverished. The unrest started out in Southern Russia, and quickly spread throughout the entire country.
Tzar Alexander III actually blamed the riots on the Jews(!) and punished them by enacting new laws which further restricted their freedoms. Among these devastating laws were legislation which restricted Jews from residing in towns with fewer than 10,000 citizens, and limiting their professional employment and education opportunities.
These oppressive laws, known as the "May Laws," compelled many Jews to emigrate. They are said to have caused more than two million Jews to leave Russia, many of them opting to move to the United States of America, and the freedoms it offered.
One day after the State of Israel was proclaimed (see Jewish History for the 5th of Iyar), the surrounding Arab nations -- Egypt, Syria, Jordan, Lebanon and Iraq --declared war on the fledgling state, with the objective of "driving the Jews into the sea." Tel Aviv was bombed on that very first day of the War of Independence.
In preparation for the festival of
we study one of the six chapters of the Talmud's
Ethics of the Fathers ("Avot") on the afternoon of each of the six Shabbatot between Passover and Shavuot; this week we study Chapter Two. (In many communities -- and such is the Chabad custom -- the study cycle is repeated through the summer, until the Shabbat before Rosh Hashanah.)
Tomorrow is the twenty-second day of the Omer Count. Since, on the Jewish calendar, the day begins at nightfall of the previous evening, we count the omer for tomorrow's date tonight, after nightfall: "Today is twenty-two days, which are three weeks and one day, to the Omer." (If you miss the count tonight, you can count the omer all day tomorrow, but without the preceding blessing).
The 49-day "Counting of the Omer" retraces our ancestors' seven-week spiritual journey from the Exodus to Sinai. Each evening we recite a special blessing and count the days and weeks that have passed since the Omer; the 50th day is Shavuot, the festival celebrating the Giving of the Torah at Sinai.
Tonight's Sefirah:Chessed sheb'Netzach-- "Kindness in Ambition"
The teachings of Kabbalah explain that there are seven "Divine Attributes" -- Sefirot -- that G-d assumes through which to relate to our existence: Chessed, Gevurah, Tifferet, Netzach, Hod, Yesod and Malchut ("Love", "Strength", "Beauty", "Victory", "Splendor", "Foundation" and "Sovereignty"). In the human being, created in the "image of G-d," the seven sefirot are mirrored in the seven "emotional attributes" of the human soul: Kindness, Restraint, Harmony, Ambition, Humility, Connection and Receptiveness. Each of the seven attributes contain elements of all seven--i.e., "Kindness in Kindness", "Restraint in Kindness", "Harmony in Kindness", etc.--making for a total of forty-nine traits. The 49-day Omer Count is thus a 49-step process of self-refinement, with each day devoted to the "rectification" and perfection of one the forty-nine "sefirot."