When Reb Pinchas Horowitz first became a disciple of the Maggid of Mezritch, the Maggid advised him to study with Reb Zusycha of Anapoli.

Reb Pinchas went to Reb Zusycha and told him of the Maggid’s advice. Reb Zusycha humbly replied that he could not understand why the Maggid would send anyone to study with him, but that he would be happy to join as great a sage as Reb Pinchas in his intellectual endeavors.

“What should we study?” Reb Pinchas asked.

“Whatever you are studying,” Reb Zusycha replied.

Reb Pinchas took out a volume of Talmud and began explaining the following passage. “When there are only nine people in the synagogue, there is an opinion that the ark of the synagogue can be counted to complete the quorum of ten necessary for prayer. The >

As Reb Pinchas stated this, Reb Zusycha interrupted: “What does the Talmud mean: ‘Is the ark a person?’ Everyone knows the ark is only an object.”

Reb Pinchas was puzzled; the question was obviously rhetorical. Didn’t his partner appreciate that?

Reb Zusycha continued: “Maybe the intent is that a person can be an ark in which the Torah is contained, a veritable repository of knowledge, but unless he is a person, unless that knowledge is integrated with his humanity, there is a question if he can be counted among the community.”

Reb Pinchas understood that this was the lesson the Maggid had wanted him to learn from Reb Zusycha: not how to augment his knowledge, but how to use his knowledge to refine himself and change his character.

Sefiras HaOmer: The Counting of the Omer

Judaism considers personal growth a lifelong task for each of us, 365 days a year for every year of our lives. Nevertheless, every year, a period of time is set aside when these efforts become the focus of our attention. This reflects the spiritual significance of Sefiras HaOmer, the forty-nine-day period between the holidays of Passover and Shavuos.

The Hebrew word sefirah means, “counting.” Every night we count one of these forty-nine days. But sefirah also means, “shining.” During these forty-nine days, we should endeavor to make our personalities shine.

According to the Kabbalah, the Jewish mystical tradition, we have seven fundamental emotional qualities. These qualities then interrelate, combining each one with another to form the full range of human feeling. Seven times seven equals forty-nine, the number of days mentioned above. This is not coincidental, for the cultivation of our spiritual personalities during these forty-nine days involves the refinement of our emotions, eliminating their coarseness and directing them to G‑dliness. As we work to upgrade our emotional potential, we prepare ourselves to relive the experience of the giving of the Torah on the holiday of Shavuos.

Looking to the Horizon

The ultimate experience of personal refinement will come in the era of the Redemption, when “there will be neither envy nor competition....” For then the G‑dly spark that is latent within every person will be revealed. At present, effort is necessary to look beyond our fundamental self-concern and appreciate the inner, spiritual core that exists within ourselves and within others. In the era of the Redemption, such an endeavor will not be necessary; it will be the way we naturally view things.

What can we do to hasten the coming of this era? Conduct ourselves at present in a manner that demonstrates our awareness of this inner G‑dliness. When we show genuine love to another person, we are highlighting the G‑dly spark that both we and the other person possess and are establishing a connection between the two. How more Messianic can one be?