Sefiras ha Omer has the elevated feel of Yom Tov and in fact is considered a type of Chol ha Moed linking Pesach and Shavuos. At the same time, it is a period of fear, stress and danger. Terrible decrees fell upon Am Yisroel during this period, especially the catastrophic death of Rabbi Akiva’s talmidim and, much later, the Crusades and the Chmielnicki uprising in Eastern Europe. Thus, it is also a period of mourning, for which reason we do not celebrate simchas during most of Sefira.
It is not surprising that Sefira is a serious tekufa. During these seven weeks in Biblical days, Am Yisroeltraveled from Mitzraim to Har Sinai. It was our avoda at that time to rise from a slave mentality to a spiritual level at which we were capable of standing before Hashem and receiving His Torah, an event which would forever alter the entire world. This was an intensely difficult spiritual undertaking. No wonder it is a time of testing and tension.
The tests were great. During those days, Am Yisroel was attacked by Amalek and our ancestors were guilty of numerous rebellions, which put us in terrible danger and caused grief, kaviochol, to our Father in Heaven and to Moshe Rabbeinu. These are the days referred to by Dovid Hamelech, where he says: “Do not harden your heart as at Meribah, as on the day of Massah in the Wilderness, when your ancestors tried Me. They tested Me, although they had seen My deed (when I freed you from slavery with earth-shaking miracles). For forty years I was angry with the generation. Then I said, ‘An errant-hearted people are they, and they do not know My ways. Therefore, I have sworn in My wrath they shall not enter My land of contentment.’” (Tehillim 95)
After leaving Mitzraim, when we arrived at the Yam Suf, the nation panicked, with the Egyptian army behind it and the sea in front. Not only then, but many times our ancestors panicked over the course of their Biblical journey through the Sinai Desert. That is why Moshe Rabbeinu had to say at the Yam Suf, “Do not fear. Stand fast and see the salvation of Hashem that He will perform for you today.” (Shemos 14:13)
Now, in the year 5783, the period of Sefiras Ha Omer continues true to its character as a time of both elevation and stress. It is easy to look down our noses at our ancestors. From our vantage point, we know that Hashem was watching over them and that Moshe Rabbeinu was leading them. It is easy to say, “How could they have panicked? What was their problem?”
Frankly, I doubt very much that, had we been there, we would have remained calm. G-d forbid we should be put to the test, but just how much faith in Hashem do we really have? Just last week I panicked about a personal issue that was purely theoretical. There were no Egyptians chasing after me, but I panicked. Where was my emunah and betochan?
Here is a recent news item: “Israel's security establishment [has stated] that the nation is at the beginning of a new security era in which it faces the possibility of attacks from multiple arenas at the same time … ‘We operated for years under the assumption that limited confrontations could be held, but this … phenomenon … is disappearing. Today there is a noticeable phenomenon of the coalescence of arenas.’" (Israel National News)
Doesn’t this sound very much like the Yam Suf, where we were surrounded on all sides? “Maase avos siman l’banim … the events which our forefathers experienced are a sign for the future.” We would do well to strengthen ourselves for the coming tests.
Listen please to the words of this week’s Haftara: “For behold … I shall shake the House of Israel among all the nations as one shakes [grain] in a sieve, and no pebble shall fall to the ground. By the sword will all the sinners of My people die, those who say, ‘The evil will not approach and overtake us.’” (Amos 9:9)
I am sorry to remind us of such frightening words, but it is astounding to see how the Novi defines the word “sinners” as those who say, “the evil will not come upon us.”
It is dangerous not to take our danger seriously.
The Novi’s advice will enable us to survive. We will realize that our only hope is to ensconce ourselves under the wings of the Torah. My friends, Sefiras ha Omer is a time to take life seriously, recognizing with greater urgency each day that there is nothing in life but Hashem and His Torah. “Ain od milvado.”
The Haftara continues: “Behold – days are coming – the words of Hashem, when … I shall bring back the captivity of My people Israel, and they will rebuild desolate cities. They will return and plant vineyards and drink their wine. They will make gardens and eat their fruit. I shall implant them upon their Land. They will not be uprooted again from upon their Land that I have given them, says Hashem, your G-d.” (Amos 9:13ff)
May we see it soon in our days!
Ain od milvado: There is nothing but Hashem
Kaviochol: So to speak
Tekufah: Time period
Yam Suf: Red Sea; also called Reed Sea