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Sefirah: Revelation and Struggle

Sefirah: Revelation and Struggle

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The town was surrounded by a ring of tall, dark, wooded hills. Heavy, dank clouds hovered over the narrow valley, permitting not a single ray of sunlight to pass through. The townsfolk were born, they lived—and they died—in the “vale of tears,” as the place was sometimes called. They had no notion that out there somewhere there were happy, sunlit places.

But, one spring day, a wondrous stranger wandered into the dark valley. Seeing their atrophied, joyless life, he told them about his homeland: a place of sunlight, of fresh air, of joy and song. Hardly anyone believed that there really was such a place.

One morning, just before daybreak, the stranger took them to the edge of the valley, and when the early morning breezes drove away the dark clouds, they saw far off in the distance, as if illuminated by a flash of lightning, a green-covered plateau on top of a distant mount bathed in the light of the rising sun.

“That is the land to which I will take you,” the wondrous man called out to the stunned people of the valley.

The sight of the sun and its rays instilled hope in the people, and they eagerly followed their leader.

The journey from the dark and dank valley was long and treacherous. There were bleak wastelands, sandy deserts, steep hills to climb. There was yet no sign of the wondrous mount which was their destination.

From time to time their leader would refresh their memories, recalling that glorious morning when they had seen the mount with their own eyes. On these occasions, they could “see” again the top of the mount bathed in sunlight. And the remembrance gave them the strength and faith to sustain them until that glorious day when they would actually stand at the foot of the mount.

The Cosmic Valley

This, say the chassidic masters, is the story of our daily lives: the constant struggle, the exhausting climb up the ladder of perfection, developing the raw material of our being; approaching, yet never quite achieving, wholeness. It is a ladder whose base is fixed in the dark valley of a world where G‑d hides His face, and whose uppermost rung stretches to the wellspring of light.

And yet, there are those rare moments of revelation. Moments in which the face of G‑d smiles through the haze, and we glimpse the promised land that is the culmination of our journey.

The story of our daily lives is the story of a journey made in darkness, the story of an ongoing struggle with the forces of nature within ourselves and outside ourselves. But without those flashes from Above—without the rays of light that drive away darkness if only for the briefest of moments—we could not survive the tortuous journey and reach our ultimate goal.

The Climb to Sinai

The prototype of this journey, the template of our sojourn in this world, is Sefirat HaOmer, the 49-day counting of the days from Passover to Shavuot.

For 210 years our ancestors lived in darkness. Enslaved by the Egyptians, the most debased society to ever dwell upon the face of the earth, the children of Israel inhabited a spiritual fog which shut off every vestige of manifest G‑dliness.

Then, one day, a wondrous stranger appeared in their midst. He spoke to them of an age-old promise, made by the G‑d of their fathers, that they would one day leave this sunless world. He spoke of a mountaintop upon which G‑d would show Himself to them, take them to Him as His chosen people, and grant them His Torah, the revelation of His wisdom and will. He spoke of a land, basking in the light of divine providence, in which they would fulfill their destiny as “a light unto the nations.”

But this seemed little more than a fantasy. The darkness of their world seemed impregnable. They had no idea what this place in the sun was like, much less how to get there.

Then, at the stroke of midnight on Passover eve, a breach opened up in the clouds of their exile, and they beheld the face of their Creator. On that night, “the Holy One, Blessed be He, revealed His very self to them and redeemed them.”

G‑d, of course, could have simply lifted them out of Egypt and brought them to Mount Sinai that very night. But He wanted it to be their journey, their achievement. So after that momentary vision, the face of G‑d receded.

Then began the arduous climb to Sinai. The Jews were out of Egypt, but Egypt was still deeply embedded within the Jews. For seven weeks they struggled to refine the seven traits of their souls, to cleanse them of the profanity of Egypt and make themselves worthy candidates for the divine choice.

This was something that they had to achieve on their own, in the darkness of their deficiencies and the coldness of their alienation. But it was that initial vision of the divine light that inspired, encouraged and drove them in their journey.

The Annual Count

Each year, on the first night of Passover, we commemorate the events of the night of the Exodus. Through the Seder observances, we re-experience the liberating vision which drives our annual emergence from our personal “Egypt” and our internal liberation “from slavery to freedom, from darkness to a great light.”

But the revelation of the Exodus is but a brief, momentary flash. On the following day we begin our 49-day trek to Sinai, reenacted each year with the Counting of the Omer. Beginning with the second night of Passover, we count the days traversed from the Exodus, chronicling the milestones and stations of our journey of self-refinement.

The 50th day is the festival of Shavuot, our annual re-experience of the giving of the Torah, when we once again stand at Sinai to receive G‑d’s communication of His wisdom and will and to be chosen as His very own “kingdom of priests and holy nation.”

Zvi Yair is the pen name of the Hebrew poet and chassidic scholar Rabbi Zvi Meir Steinmetz (1915–2005). For more on Zvi Yair, see www.zviyair.com.
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Anonymous May 17, 2016

Beautiful and well said! Thanks for posting! Reply

Jeannette Nederland April 13, 2015

The beautiful history of the chosen people and a lesson for the whole world Reply

ruth housman marshfield hills, ma April 5, 2013

OMER the echoic connect to Omar, what is heard and O MAR, for SEA. I foresee... We are all counting down towards 0 which is also an expression of the circle, of Zero, but what's sub zero is a story, that is as miraculous as any ever told, because it contains all stories. It's the UNDER I hear, in articulating the word, WONDER itself.

It could be, we're all still on Sinai. It could be, the rest is but a dream, but that the echoic connect with ONE, with ECHAD or the echo within as in Echod, is what reverberates throughout our lives, in the various iterations of one, as in The Tree of Life, as in that bite of the apple, as in Apple computers and what we call byte.

Once you perceive the intrinsic one ness to all, and that we all Count, as in Counting Up or Down, that there is a connection between up AND down, then you've arrived, and we're holding hands again, as Moses climbs that mountain.

Arriver in French means to arrive. And it's a river, we're following, a true oceanic river of story, that all connects and runs back to, and from the Source. Reply

Anonymous boynton beach, fl. May 13, 2012

Heavy stuff Reply

Anonymous Baktimore April 25, 2012

Skoyoch Rebbe!! Reply

Kevin Daly Johannesburg, South Africa May 8, 2011

Daniel's new omer countdown The 'seven sevens' of the original omer have a parallel in the 'seventy sevens' of Daniel 9:24. The galut bavel was a return to slavery and a new countdown was given to Daniel before Ezra and Nehemnia led the people out. The events that culminated in Daniel's countdown made possible the fulfilment of Rabbi Meir's prototype. Reply

howard joffe capetown, south africa April 22, 2011

a clearing took place giving us the opportunity to have a fresh look at ourselves, our life and our journey.
The mist disappeared and we saw the light. Reply

e. Karesky escondido, ca/usa April 2, 2010

life's passages This is so beautiflully written. There are aspects of this writing that make each person's pathway through individual struggle to reach liberation from ones self and toward hope, personal refinement and a future of hope, faith, and redemption clear, understandable, and to be read again and again! Are not most of us trying to attain what our ancient ancestors did in their journey towards the new land and G-d's promise albeit more as individuals rather than as a people? Yet, we should remember that in making this journey of life through the example of our people that it is best and easiest done with the love of others and with the love of G-d. We may stumble but we will grow! Reply

Chani Benjaminson, chabad.org April 19, 2009

More on the traits Sure! Here's a link to more insights. Reply

Kelani Nichole Philadelphia, PA April 17, 2009

More on the Refinement You write: "For seven weeks they struggled to refine the seven traits of their souls, to cleanse it of the profanity of Egypt and make themselves worthy candidates for the divine choice."

Is there anywhere I might read more about these seven traits? I'd love to learn more about this aspect of the counting of the Omer. Reply

Anonymous April 17, 2009

Isru Chag I have been Christian all my life, at least until G-d found me (yes, He hides His face!). What a revelation Judaism and Jewish life is.

Blessed be the Holy One of Israel, Redeemer of Jacob and of all mankind, blessed be He, forever and ever, Amen. Reply

Rachael Ziporah Baltimore, Maryland May 13, 2008

Sefirot HaOmer Thank you for this most beautiful explaination. It leaves me with a feeling of peace and tranquility to reaffirm G-d's love for us in this most awe inspiring way. Thanks to you on this magnificent piece. Reply

niecy65 April 28, 2008

Yes, I agree; it is a beautiful way to explain the experience of liberation and self-refinement.

What particularly stood out to me:

"G-d, of course, could have simply lifted them out of Egypt and brought them to Mount Sinai that very night. But He wanted it to be their journey, their achievement. So after that momentary vision, the face of G-d receded."

Experiences have so much more meaning when you do all the work, as opposed to having it done for you. Reply

Anonymous April 26, 2006

beautifull explained! Reply