We are commanded by the Torah to bring, on the second day of Passover, a measure—an omer—of the first cutting of our barley harvest to the Holy Temple in Jerusalem as an offering to G‑d, and not to partake of that year’s grain crop until that offering is made. We then count 49 days, and on the 50th day, which is Shavuot, we bring the first of our wheat harvest as an offering to G‑d, and we do not use of the year’s wheat crop for Temple offerings until this is done.

Hence, the 49-day count leading from Passover to Shavuot is called “the Counting of the Omer”—a reference to the omer of barley that was brought on the first day of the count.

As always in the Torah, there are eternal personal and societal insights to be gleaned from particular public ritual.

In biblical tradition, We are inclined to believe that all intellectual and artistic endeavors are inherently positivebarley is primarily animal food. Wheat is the key and ideal human food.

The Hebrew word for offering, korban, means “to draw near.” This 49-day period of the Sefirat HaOmer (the Omer count), the arc between these two offerings of barley and wheat, is an opportune time for spiritual and ethical self-development. It represents the opportunity to draw close to G‑dliness the entire universe of the human personality, from the most basic drives for self-preservation to the most subtle intellectual and artistic insight.

Each one of us contains a broad range of emotional and intellectual characteristics. Regarding the emotional aspects, most of us would agree that a “barley offering” is in order. The animalistic appetites for physical pleasure and expression of ego must be controlled and tamed by connecting them to the Divine. We must offer up our physical drives and desires to control by G‑d, lest they get the better of us. We see every day the harm caused to individuals and those around them, as well as to whole societies, by the untrammeled expression of the animal drives.

When it comes to our intellectual and creative side, however, we are inclined to believe that all intellectual and artistic endeavors are inherently positive, inasmuch as they are uniquely human and intrinsically refined. There are those who would argue that untrammeled intellectual and artistic expression is itself a fundamental good.

Torah rejects this premise. We must also bring an offering of our “wheat”—our human endeavors, the uniquely human aspects of our soul—to G‑d. If we do not bind our intellect and creativity to the unchanging and transcendent G‑dly values articulated by Torah and fed into our consciousness by the G‑dly soul, then—no matter how profound our musings or how refined our aesthetic—we risk creating and inspiring falsehood, evil and destruction. Not all art inspires positive behavior or attitudes, not every music uplifts the soul, nor is every philosophy helpful or even benign.

Indeed, there is nothing more destructive than negative concepts, beliefs and societal paradigms. Not all art inspires positive behavior or attitudes, not every music uplifts the soul . . .All the worst evils of a terribly violent and inhumane 20th century stemmed not from misused “barley,” greed and base animal passions, but from misused “wheat,” malignant ideologies.

Archimedes of Syracuse famously said, “Give me a place to stand upon, and with a lever I will move the whole world.” That place exists; it is the human mind. The only question is—“to where the movement?” The ideas in those minds can lift the world up to the heights of virtue and peace, or cast it down to the depths of depravity and destruction. Only by shining the light of G‑dliness into our souls can we distinguish between the ideas and creations that refine humanity and those that pollute it.

The process of counting and living the Omer arc gives us the ability and clarity to begin each step of our intellectual, creative, societal or political endeavor by asking: “Does this essay, or poem, or work of art, or piece of music, or speech, or campaign to mold public opinion move us closer to unity by expressing a G‑dly vision of a harmonious, uplifted, and refined world?”

If we do, it will.