Counting of the Omer

The Essence of the Month of Iyar

Although we are supposed to improve and work on ourselves the entire year, this is particularly the essence of the month of Iyar. In contrast to the previous month which was dominated by a festival and one cannot recite Tachnun the entire month, the month of Iyar has a large number of (both physical and spiritual) workdays.

The month of Iyar is the only month in which the Omer is counted every day. The significance of the counting is to advance and elevate ourselves in daily small steps from the 49 levels of impurity the Jews were in when they left Egypt until they became worthy of receiving the Torah.

These days are disposed to and appropriate for working on one’s character. On each day, according to Kabbalah, we are rectifying one quality (as is delineated in siddurim) until we have attained the complete gamut of good character qualities.

That Iyar is a month set aside for work can be seen from various events that occurred in this month and that characterize it (see Bnei Yissachar, Iyar 1). This is the month in which the cornerstone of the Sanctuary was laid during the days of King Solomon. The way to build a building is one brick at a time — reminiscent of the daily Omer counting. The month of Iyar was the first complete month that the Israelites spent in the desert, until they arrived on the first day of the third month to the Desert of Sinai and camped there.

The symbol of this month, the ox, reinforces this idea. The ox is the animal created to work in the field. It is also the month when the Levites began to bear the Tabernacle’s vessels on their shoulder. The burden of bearing a load is not only the animal’s lot, but also man’s, and in particular the most elevated among them…

One component of the “work” done in the Sanctuary, appears in the Torah portion of Tazria and applies especially to women.

The Essence of the Postpartum Sacrifice

Six weeks is the usual period of time required to recover from childbirth. Significantly, this is also the period of time which the Torah requires for a woman’s purification process after giving birth to a baby boy. On the forty-first day, she is permitted to enter the Sanctuary and eat the meat of holy sacrifices, after she brings two sacrifices — a sheep as a burnt-offering and a dove or pigeon for a sin-offering.

These sacrifices give expression to the range of feelings which a woman feels after giving birth. On one hand, these sacrifices awaken in the woman appreciation for being saved from the painful labor — “which is a miracle” (Sefer Hachinuch, 167). On the other hand, the Torah emphasizes that she needs an atonement — “and it will atone for her and purify her from the source of her blood.” (Lev. 12:7)

The atonement could be for her hasty statement when giving birth not to cohabit with her husband again (nida 31:2). It could also be a symbol of purification after the (forty-day) creation of a fetus and a thorough rectification of “the source of her blood” — which is due to Eve’s sin (Kli Yakar). The element of atonement and impurity is explained beautifully by the Rebbe of Kotzk (cited in the Shem Mishmuel) as a result of the loss that occurs after birth, when the Shechina, that was present with the key of life, departs.

Rabbi Samson Raphael Hirsch offers a different outlook. He explains that offering a yearling sheep prepares the woman to maintain her “spiritual and mental youth” by offering her life energy to G-d and filling herself with new energy for “ her lofty role as a woman and a mother” which gives G-d much pleasure. Bringing the bird as a sin-offering before the burnt-offering, symbolizes her readiness to accept “the days of suffering required by her life role” (as she experienced when giving birth), and instead of attentuating her moral strength, it infuses it with active meaning, drawing her closer to the goal of renewal and vitality.

May the Merciful One renew the service in the Sanctuary in its place soon in our days, Amen Selah.

Question:

Dear rabbi,

In one of your  Torah classes, you mentioned that it is forbidden to mix ‘kindness” (chesed) and “justice” (din) Why not? Don’t kindness and justice together form the quality of “majesty” (tiferes)?  When we pour several drops of water into the Shabbos wine, aren’t we mixing kindness with strength? Why is it permitted in this case?

Thanks in advance.

Answer to the question:

Shalom and Blessings,

Mixing kindness and justice where the Torah commands it, will bring an abundance of holiness. But where the Torah forbids mixing kindness and justice, the kindness and justice comes from a source of impurity (klipot).

The kindness of the klipa is Ishmael, and the justice of the klipa is Esau. We have to ensure that Ishmael and Esau stay separate, because when they join together, the Jewish people are in grave danger, may G-d protect us.

Keeping the wicked separate is good for them and good for the world.

In contrast, joining Avraham’s kindness and Yitzchak’s fear of G-d, created the majesty (tiferes) of Yaakov. When tzadikim join together, it is good for them and good for the world.

Wishing you the best,

Menashe Israel

 
 

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