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Sefiras Ha'Omer - Count up to Kabbalas HaTorah
"You shall count for yourselves…. Seven complete weeks until the day after the seventh week, you shall count fifty days." (Vayikra 23:15,16)
We count the Omer which heralds in the festival of Shavuos, writes the Sefer HaChinuch, to demonstrate our great yearning and thirst for the Torah. Just as a slave anticipating his release from bondage counts the days till he will go free, so too we count. Counting reveals that one's hope and desire is to reach the appointed time.
The Chinuch adds that this is also why we count the days that have passed rather than the days that remain. Beginning the count with "there are 49 days until Shavuos" would only serve to accentuate the long delay until Mattan Torah. Our enthusiasm for the coming chag would surely diminish. Instead we count up to Shavuos.(According to this line of reasoning one might think that when Sefira is approaching completion, one should count down the last few days for extra emphasis. However, adds the Chinuch, a mitzva must be performed in a consistent manner, it is improper to change its form in the middle.)
The commentators explain that we must utilise the period of Sefira to prepare for Kabbalas HaTorah. Anticipating the arrival of Shavuos is considered a means of preparation. It shows that we value the Torah and will take care to study and heed its words. Additionally, by counting up, we demonstrate that our toil and preparations are not only for the sake of receiving the Torah, they are intrinsically valuable exercises. When we count down we show that the interim period has no purpose. We are merely passing time and would prefer that the awaited day was already here. And so we count up; each day is an accomplishment. We are growing, even before Shavuos arrives.
After learning we pray "I toil and they toil, I toil and receive reward and they toil and do not receive reward." The obvious difficulty in understanding the wording of this prayer is that anyone who works is paid for his work. What does it mean that others toil but do not receive reward? The Chafetz Chaim answers with an analogy concerning a tailor. If the tailor would work hard producing a fine quality suit, he would surely get paid. But if the finished product did not meet the customer's expectations, he would receive no payment. The time and energy that the tailor invested producing the garment goes unrewarded. However, when one learns Torah, if one does not grasp the Gemara, even after toiling for hours, his efforts are not in vain; we toil and receive reward just for toiling. However they toil, but do not receive reward. Thus we say in the Haggada: "Had He brought us before Har Sinai, but not given us the Torah, it would have sufficed for us." Through our efforts and preparations we became close to Hashem even before the Torah was given.
Not only is preparation and toiling in Torah a worthwhile pursuit, if one wishes to see success in his learning, it is a necessity! In Pirkei Avos (5:26), Be Hei-Hei teaches "l'fum tza'ara agra", according to the suffering is the reward. The Rambam writes that Torah is only acquired through toil and effort. Material one reads in a casual and relaxed manner will eventually be forgotten.
We can certainly gain inspiration from the process of counting up. Each day we are adding to the previous day's accomplishments. Usually when a Yom Tov arrives, we are excited by its lessons and messages. For most of us however, as time progresses, our inspiration wanes, our interest expires and we may even reach the point where we long for its departure. Tzaddikim however add to their initial enthusiasm continuously and grow steadily throughout the Yom Tov. This is because they internalise the lessons of the Yom Tov. Excitement which comes from within does not wane. We too must absorb and take to heart the concepts and messages of the Yomim Tovim and mitzvos. Only then can we continue to grow. This is also the underlying meaning of the concept Ma'alin bakodesh v'ein moridin - in matters of holiness, we go up in kedusha and not down. (see Michtav Me'Eliyahu vol.2, p.121). We therefore count up to Kabbalas HaTorah, to remind ourselves that we should harness our initial excitement and aim to always be ascending in Torah and avodas Hashem.
May we use the period of Sefiras HaOmer to anticipate Kabbalas HaTorah, to prepare ourselves to receive it, and to toil and immerse ourselves in its words. May we strive to constantly climb and grow, bringing us closer to Hashem.
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