This Torah reading contains a description of the festivals G‑d commands the Jewish people to celebrate. It begins with the festival of Pesach, for that is when our people became a nation. The next holiday mentioned is the holiday of Shavuos. But unlike all the other holidays mentioned in this passage, a specific date is not mentioned for Shavuos. Instead of specifying the day on which the holiday should be celebrated, the Torah gives us the mitzvah of Counting the Omer and states that on the fiftieth day of the Counting of the Omer, Shavuos should be observed. (That indeed is the source for the name Shavuos. Shavuos means “weeks.” After seven weeks, 49 days, the fiftieth day serves as a holiday.)

The Counting of the Omer does more than chronologically bridge the gap between Pesach and Shavuos. The spiritual import of the mitzvah enables the two holidays to complement each other. On Pesach, “the King of kings, the Holy One, blessed be He, was revealed” to the Jewish people. They, however, were not able to internalize the revelation for they were still sullied by the impurity that had become attached to them through the years of Egyptian exile. As our Rabbis say: “It took G‑d one moment to take the Jews out of Egypt, but forty years to take Egypt out of the Jews.”

Moreover, in a complete sense, “taking Egypt out of the Jews” — i.e., the personal refinement the Jews must undergo — must come from their own efforts and not from a revelation from Above. This defines the nature of the Divine service prescribed for the Counting of the Omer:to refine and elevate our personalities. The 49 days of the Counting of the Omer correspond to the 49 dimensions of our personalities. (According to Kabbalah, our emotions are made up of seven different qualities. These seven interrelate with each other producing a total of 49. The Divine service of Counting the Omer involves polishing and developing each of these potentials.)

Chassidicthought sets out an entirely new set of parameters for this task. Not only must we abandon our undesirable character traits and polish the positive ones, we must focus on conquering our fundamental self-concern, the dimension of our personalities labeled as yeshus, self-concern. At that point, our emotions no longer focus on “what I want” and “what I feel,” but they become aligned with the middos Elyonus, G‑d’s emotional qualities, and reflect them. That is the inner meaning of the term sefirah. Not only does it mean “counting,” it also means “shining forth.” A person is given the potential to beam forth G‑dly light.

Looking to the Horizon

The Torah reading begins with a command to the priests to avoid the impurity stemming from contact with a human corpse. Impurity is not evil. On the contrary, burying a corpse is a great mitzvah and yet a person who does so becomes impure. It is, however, a result of the descent experienced by mankind after the Sin of the Tree of Knowledge. Before that sin, man was intended to live forever. The body and the soul would function in utter harmony. The sin, however, brought about the potential for the separation of the body and the soul — death. The vacuum created by that separation is the source of impurity.

In the era of the Redemption, “I will cause the spirit of impurity to depart from the earth.” Man will return to an Eden-like existence. Indeed, it will be more than a return to Eden, for in the Ultimate Future, it will be revealed that the body has a higher spiritual source than the soul. In the present era, the body derives its vitality from the soul and dies when the connection between the two is severed. In the Ultimate Future, the soul will derive its vitality from the body and appreciate the transcendent G‑dliness invested in material existence.