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How 49 and 49 Equal 49

How 49 and 49 Equal 49

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Here are a few (paraphrased) statements for you to contrast:

Statement A: “The Jews in Egypt were on the 49th level of impurity.” (One step away from the very bottom, the 50th level of impurity.)1

Statement B: “The Jews were on the 49th level of holiness when they got the Torah.” (One step away from the very top, the 50th level of holiness.)2

Statement C: The 49 days of Sefirat HaOmer (Counting of the Omer) help us traverse those 49 levels so that we will be ready accept the Torah. Each day of the Omer, we work to refine one character trait and go up a level, until 49 days later, we are ready to receive the Torah.3

Okay, now for some simple math.

The Jews started on level -49, and 49 days later they were at +49, the 49th level of holiness, right?

How far is -49 from 49?

I’ll give you some time. Okay, time’s up.

The correct answer is 98. The 49th level of holiness is 98 levels higher than the 49th level of impurity.

So it should have taken the Jews 98 days to get to the level of holiness required to be ready to accept the Torah. At the time of the Giving of the Torah, which was only 49 days from when they left Egypt, they should have been at level zero! How did they make it to +49 in only half the time?

The answer is, quite simply, they made it up two levels every day. How did they do that? Well, instead of destroying negative character traits and then rebuilding new, positive traits, which would be a two day process, they actually transformed the negative character traits themselves into positive ones—a one day process.

So what does that mean for me? How does all this math affect my life?

What it means is that we need to rework our understanding of negative character traits. Let’s take the trait of anger. Anger is really just passion that has not been channeled properly. How negative it is depends on the circumstances: what triggered it, and what actions does it cause you to take? Imagine getting indignant when an injustice is done in front of you, and standing up for the oppressed because of that emotional response. Doesn’t seem like such a terrible character trait now, does it?

The same is true of every character trait. There are no bad character traits. There are only badly channeled ones.

So, each day of the Omer, instead of trying to create entirely new emotions and traits, try to figure out where those emotions already exist. Then, re-channel them to where they are really supposed to go.

And, 49 days later, you will be ready to accept the Torah.

(Based on the Netivot Shalom, Parshat Emor.)

Footnotes
1.
Zohar Hachadash, Yitro 31a; Ohr Hachayim, Shemot 3:8.
2.
Ohr Hachayim, Shemot 3:8.
3.
Zohar, Parshat Emor p. 36 and 97; Likkutei Torah, Parshat Emor p. 35.
Sefira Ross is a freelance designer and illustrator whose original creations grace many Chabad.org pages. Residing in Seattle, Washington, her days are spent between multitasking illustrations and being a mom.
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Rosina Brisbane, Australia June 1, 2017

Todah Rabah. Such wise counsel.

Wow just dealing with anger it's not rocket science.
We just need to understand that 'anger' would make more sense when its channelled into positive things to be on fire for our Creator and His will, not our self destructing will. This way 'anger' will have positive and life-giving outcomes in all situations...All for His Praise and Glory.

I am reminded of the Amidah...Binah

"You favour men with knowledge
and teach mortals understanding
O favour us with the knowledge,
understanding and the insight that come from you.
Blessed are you, O Lord, the gracious giver of knowledge.

Our Creator, Blessed be His Name does not want us to 'perish from lack of knowledge'

Shalom Rosina Reply

Ruth FL May 30, 2017

Exactly what are these levels. I've never been able to get a straight answer to this question? Reply

Jo Newberg OR May 29, 2017

Is resentment one of those character traits? And, if so, how can that be re-channeled? Or maybe a better word might be bitterness. IOW, can't get over a past wrong. Reply

Marilyn Matawan May 29, 2017

Anger and hurt are opposite sides of the same emotional coin. Some people hit someone over the head with a bag of anger70 years old. Some people use anger to keep people at a distance. They use anger to keep people at arms length. "If I can't get close to you you can't hurt me." Some families play third degree game: they wind up in the hospital, the courtroom, the morgue. This is between individuals. All the families have problems, they just cover them up. There is no justification for such abuse. We can have tolerance and pity between individuals who have lost their temper. Some people think it's terrible what individuals do, but some people think war is different. This justifies incomprehensible cruelty and leads to problems we are having in the world today. If you want your children to go to school safely, be a positive role model and show non-violent ways to relate. Be good to your family and community as a way towards world peace. Demonstrate loving ways to relate. Reply

Amy Hendler May 29, 2017

So, if we become pure by the time of Shavuot, why repeat the process every year? Is it that we fall back easily into old ways? Also, shouldn't we be working on these things throughout the year? Reply

Mendel Adelman May 30, 2017
in response to Amy Hendler:

Great questions!

But, if you think about it, they apply to each and every holiday. If Pesach is about leaving limitations, shouldn't it be a year round thing? Do we only need to leave limitations once a year? And, if we did it last year, why do it again?

The answer to that question is that really, holidays are meant to permeate your entire year. We are supposed to leave limitations every single day. Pesach is just our once a year reminder of that. It is a time dedicated to focusing on our year round mission and recharging for it.

So too, the Omer is meant to inspire us to grow every single day of the year.

So why do it again if we did it last year?

Well, it could be because we messed up since then. But it also could be much better than that. We could be doing it a much more elevated way than the year before. We, as humans, have room for infinite growth. We aren't doing it again. We are doing it anew! Reply

Laurie Kurs East Windsor May 28, 2017

Out of curiosity, from where do these 50 levels of impurity and purity stem from? Where are they first mentioned??
Thank You,
Laurie Reply

Mendel Adelman May 30, 2017
in response to Laurie Kurs:

Hey Laurie,

The 50 levels of impurity and impurity stem from the interplay between the seven emotional attributes of the human psyche. Read more about them at.

(Almost) everything in holiness has a counterpart in impurity. If there are fifty levels of holiness, there must be fifty levels of impurity to counterbalance them.

In many Kabalistic sources, the fifty levels are connected to the fifty "gates of binah-understanding", that are mentioned all over.

We, through our efforts, work towards the forty nine. Those levels are all within the grasp of hard work. The fiftieth comes from above.

The earliest sources of the concept, I believe are all in the Zohar. The exact pages can be found in the footnotes of the article. Reply