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Torah Attitude: Parashas Emor: Counting the "Sefirah", polishing the sapphire and emulating the Sefirot
Throughout the forty nine days between Pesach and Shavuous we are commanded to count the "Omer" every day. In the Holy Zohar this counting is compared to a woman preparing herself for her union with her husband. In preparation for the union with G'd at Mount Sinai, the Jewish people had to go through an extreme purification of seven times seven days, similar to a bride that purifies herself for seven days prior to her wedding. The Jewish soul is compared to the Tablets that Moses brought down at Mount Sinai. Every year there is a potential for every Jew to have a personal exodus from the "impurity of Egypt" and subsequently to accept the Torah. G'd created the world through the means of ten Sefirot and through these same Sefirot G'd is conducting all affairs of the world ever since. The great Kabbalist Rabbi Moshe Cordovero elaborates on how man should emulate G'd in every one of the Sefirot. Another great Kabbalist, Rabbi Chaim Vital, explains that only a person who has worked on his character traits will be able to fully accept the Torah.
Counting 49 days
This week's Torah portion is one of the places where G'd commands Moses regarding the Festivals of the Jewish people. In this connection, the Torah instructs us to join the Festival of Pesach commemorating the exodus from Egypt with the Festival of Shavuous commemorating the giving of the Torah at Mount Sinai. Throughout the forty nine days between these two Festivals we are commanded to count "Omer" every day, also known as counting "Sefirah". As the Sefer HaChinuch (Mitzvah 306) explains, this counting was initiated by the Jewish people themselves as they left Egypt. They were told that seven weeks later they were going to receive the Torah, and being well aware of the importance of this event, they immediately started to count towards it.
Counting seven days
In the Holy Zohar (Ra'aya Mehemna 97) this counting is compared to the counting of a woman preparing herself for her union with her husband. When Eve sinned by eating and serving the fruit of the Tree of Knowledge of Good and Evil she brought about an impurity into the world. All of Eve's Jewish female offspring participate in rectifying this impurity after their regular menstrual periods, when they count seven days culminating with immersion in the Mikvah.
Seven times seven
Based on the words of the Zohar, the Or Hachaim (Vayikra 23:15) explains that the Jewish people had been affected by the impurity of Egypt, and in preparation for the union with G'd at Mount Sinai they had to go through a purification similar to a bride that purifies herself prior to her wedding. However, due to the extreme impurity of Egypt, the Jewish people needed to count seven times seven days whereas a bride only needs seven days of counting.
Restoring precious souls
The Or Chaim quotes the Kabbalists who explain that the Jewish soul is compared to the Tablets that Moses brought down at Mount Sinai. Our sages explain that these Tablets were made from the precious sapphire stone (see Rashi Shemos 34:1). Just like a gem can get soiled and covered with dirt if it is not preserved or guarded, so will the Jewish soul, despite its preciousness, be soiled if it is not properly guarded. However, just as a precious stone can be cleaned and polished to bring it back to its original glory, so can every Jewish soul be worked on and polished to restore it to its full shine. It is interesting to note that every Jew can get up in the morning, irrespective of how he has lived his life in the past, and say (Artscroll Siddur p.18-19) "My G'd, the soul that you have given me is pure." The outer layer might be soiled but the inner soul (neshamah) always remains pure.
Polish our soul
The Or Chaim concludes that there is a connection between the Hebrew word for counting, Sefirah, and the stone of sapphire, and through the daily counting we "polish" our precious souls, preparing ourselves to accept the Torah. As the Kabbalists explain, every year the potential is there for every Jew to have a personal exodus from the "impurity of Egypt" and subsequently to accept the Torah. We therefore get ready to receive the Torah by counting the forty nine days. This gives us an opportunity to rid our souls of any foreign particles that soiled them and restore their full beauty and shine.
The obvious question is, how do we achieve this merely by making a daily counting? We can answer this by investigating another meaning of the word Sefirah. The Kabbalists explain that G'd created the world through the means of ten Sefirot and through these same Sefirot G'd is conducting all affairs of the world ever since. The Mishnah (Pirkei Avos 5:1) says that G'd created the world with "Ten Sayings". These Ten Sayings correspond to the ten Sefirot. Similarly, each of the Ten Commandments corresponds to one of the Sefirot. The Zohar explains that the three highest Sefirot (Keser, Chochmah, and Binah) are so elevated and spiritual that they are beyond the comprehension of human beings to grasp their full meaning. The lower seven Sefirot correspond to the seven days of the week and the seven years of the Shemitah cycle. G'd mainly created the world with the two basic Sefirot known as Chesed and Gevurah corresponding to the two basic ways in which G'd conducts the world: lovingkindness and judgment. G'd blends them in a perfect combination known as the Sefirah of Tiferet which translates as "beauty". This can be understood to mean that the beauty of G'd's conduct of the world is that there is no contradiction between G'd's judgment and lovingkindness. The next three Sefirot Netzach, Hod, and Yesod support and correspond to the previous three. These six Sefirot are channels through which all Heavenly blessings flow. Subsequently, these blessings are executed through the final Sefirah of Malchut.
The Torah obligates us to emulate G'd as it says in Parashas Eikev (Devarim 8:6) "And you shall walk in His ways." The Talmud (Shabbos 133b) explains that just like G'd is merciful and compassionate, so we shall conduct ourselves with mercy and compassion. The great Kabbalist Rabbi Moshe Cordovero (Tomer Devorah Chapters 5-9) elaborates on how man should emulate G'd in every one of the Sefirot. Each Sefirah corresponds to a character trait or way of conduct on a human level. On one hand a person should conduct oneself with the character trait of chesed, with an abundance of lovingkindness, fulfilling the obligation of loving G'd, as well as G'd's children, his fellow human beings. At the same time, one should conduct oneself with the character trait of Gevurah, strictness, restricting oneself and controlling one's cravings and impulses. The way to conduct oneself with the character trait of Tiferet, says Rabbi Cordovero, is through the study of Torah which teaches us the right combination when to utilize the character trait of lovingkindness and when to apply the character trait of strictness. He continues to explain that the conduct of Netzach and Hod are through supporting students of Torah with monetary donations and actual acts helping Torah scholars. He further explains that in order to properly conduct oneself with the character trait of Yesod one needs to be extremely cautious to sanctify one's thoughts, speech and actions. The control of one's thoughts is only possible if one controls what one watches. Whenever a person watches improper or immodest people and their conduct, it influences the person's mind and the thought processes. Subsequently, this will affect men's nocturnal emissions, which is completely opposite to the conduct of Yesod. This conduct obligates every male to guard the holy covenant of Brit Milah and to confine one's relationship to no one other than one's spouse and only after she has gone through the proper purification. Finally, the character trait of Malchut obligates a person to be subdued and humble with a constant awareness that man can do nothing himself and is totally dependent on the Heavenly blessings flowing down from above.
Many people have the custom of saying a special prayer after the counting of the Sefirah. In this prayer one asks that in the merit of the counting any blemish made in the Sefirah corresponding to that particular day be corrected. One further asks that one should be purified and sanctified with Holiness from Above and through this there should be an abundance of flow in all the worlds. The prayer concludes with a request that our souls should be corrected from all blemishes that may have soiled them in the past. In this way our daily counting throughout the forty nine days makes us review our daily conduct, analyzing whether we used the right character traits in the right way. This is a prerequisite for accepting the Torah on the Festival of Shavuous. As another of the great Kabbalists, Rabbi Chaim Vital (Shaarei Kedushah 1:2) explains that only a person who has worked on his character traits will be able to fully accept the Torah. May G'd help us to utilize these special days to grow in our character traits so that we will be able to have our personal acceptance of the Torah on Shavuous.
These words were based on a talk given by Rabbi Avraham Kahn, the Rosh Yeshiva and Founder of Yeshivas Keser Torah in Toronto.
Shema Yisrael Torah Network