"Count for yourselves [in Hebrew, 'U'sifartem lachem'] seven weeks from after 'the Shabbat', from the day you bring the wave offering…." (Lev. 23:15)

The Hebrew word for count, "u'sifartem", suggests "luminance" as well. An illuminant stone is called "even sapir". The ten sefirot are so-called to connote luminance.

So the verse is saying that in counting the seven weeks - "U'sifartem lachem" - you should draw upon yourselves the luminance of the ten sefirot. [This is the Tzemach Tzedek's gloss: See Pardes 8:2, citing Sefer HaBahir ("the Book of Luminance"): "Why are they called 'sefirot'? To connote the same meaning as the verse 'the heavens relate [in Hebrew, "misaprim"] the glory of G‑d…" See also Zohar on Teruma 136b: "What is the meaning of "relate"? That they illuminate…"]

To understand this let us first introduce the following:

Run and Return

The Counting of the Omer comes between Pesach and Shavuot. Pesach is the exodus from Egypt; Shavuot is the giving of the Torah. Before the giving of the Torah, the Israelites had to count seven complete weeks, and only then were they able to receive the Torah.

In Ezekiel's vision of the celestial spheres he speaks of angels running to (in Hebrew, "ratzo") and fro ("shov"), running and returning. In the higher realms, everything exists in a state of ratzo and shov.

On Pesach we experienced ratzo, running; on Shavuot we experienced shov.

Pesach, the exodus from Egypt, was a rushed affair. The Paschal lamb was eaten in haste, i.e. running, ratzo. They were running because of the immense revelation of Divinity that was apparent when G‑d Himself set them free. (In the future redemption, we are promised that we will not need to escape in haste.) A new day, a new exodus…

The Pesach experience is one of running from "below to above"; Shavuot is one of return, receiving the Torah, which is the revelation of divine will below. On Shavuot G‑d descends upon Mount Sinai. We experience the drawing down of divinity from "above to below."

[Note: During the exodus we were running away from the evil of Egypt into which we had deeply sunk. Had we remained there another moment, we would have been lost. In the Messianic Era, we and the world will have been elevated to the point that there will be no need to run. Ed.]

On Pesach we were running away from ourselves, from the physical. Divine revelation sent us upward, away from the physical, i.e. ratzo. The giving of the Torah on Shavuot, represents the opposite: applying Divinity, the laws of the Torah, to the physical world, i.e. shov.

Daily Exodus

We are enjoined to remember the day we left the land of Egypt all the days of our lives. In every generation, we must see ourselves as leaving Egypt - every day. A new day, a new exodus.

The buildup to this exodus takes place during the portion of the prayer called Pesukei D'zimra, verses of praise. During this section of prayer, the individual meditates upon the behavior of the heavenly hosts, which prostrate themselves, as it were, to G‑d. He ponders the ophanim, and angelic beings, who with great tumult sing praise to Him. They are all in a state of constant bitul, selflessness.

This exodus takes place during the recitation of the Shema, when we experience love of G‑d - "and you shall love your G‑d" - and thereby flee from the slavery and Egypt of our earthly consciousness]. Indeed the Shema concludes with the phrase: "I am Havayah your G‑d; I have taken you out of the land of Egypt…"

During prayer, one contemplates that the life-force of all the worlds stems from the luminance of His Name alone. Whereas the soul, in giving life to the body, enters and enclothes the very essence of its vitality within the body, G‑d remains beyond the world, exalted and transcendent.

During prayer, the worshipper reads the verse, "Your kingship is a kingship over all worlds…" (Psalms 145:13) He recognizes that even the millions of worlds that exist are naught in comparison to His light. He understands that one compared to a trillion is still something; it is one part of the total sum. But between a trillion and infinity there is no relationship. In order to… celebrate Shavuot, the body too must experience self-nullification…

Through meditation on all the above, a person reaches a state of ratzo during Shema, loving G‑d with all his heart and leaving Egypt - the boundaries and borders that conceal divinity and give the false impression of an independent reality.

This is called exodus from Egypt.


But all of the above speaks only of the G‑dly soul. The exodus of the soul leaves the body behind. The body (and the animalistic soul that animates it) remain animalistic. In order to receive the Torah, to celebrate Shavuot, the body too must experience self-nullification.

This is achieved through the waving of the omer and the counting of the omer. The omer was an offering that consisted of barley, essentially animal food. In the higher worlds, there exists the antecedent of the physical animal. The supernal chariot features the faces of "animals". These supernal animals are the root of all physical animals, and the root of the animalistic soul that is within man.

Through waving the barley, animal food, the priests elevate the supernal animal.

This is followed by the Counting of the Omer, which serves to elicit the transcendent lights of holiness and subdue the animalistic soul. For the next forty-nine days, the forty-nine attributes of the "animal" are refined and elevated.

Only then is one a vessel to receive the Torah on Shavuot.

Adapted by Yosef Marcus from Likutei Torah

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