Sefiras HaOmer Insights

Usfartem lachem mimacharas haShabbos miyom haviachem es omer hatenufah sheva shabbasos temimos tihyenah (Vayikra 23:15)

Parashas Emor contains the mitzvah of Sefiras HaOmer — counting the Omer. During each successive day of this seven-week period, we are commanded to count the passing days and weeks as we eagerly await our commemoration of the giving of the Torah on Shavuos. Harav Gedaliah Schorr, zt”l, explains that this 49-day interval is divided into three parts, which correspond to the three pillars that sustain the world (Avos 1:2): Torah, Avodah (Divine Service) and Gemilus Chassadim (acts of kindness).

The first third of Sefiras HaOmer corresponds to Avodah, as it begins with Pesach, when every Jew participates in offering and eating a Passover offering. The next part of Sefiras HaOmer represents Gemilus Chassadim as it contains Pesach Sheini, when Hashem mercifully gave a make-up opportunity to those who were unable to participate in the Korban Pesach because they were impure or far away (Bamidbar 9:6-13).

The final portion of Sefiras HaOmer corresponds to Torah, for these are the weeks in which we prepare ourselves to re-accept the Torah on Shavuos. For this reason, this period begins on Lag BaOmer, when we celebrate the revealing of the secrets of the hidden Torah by Rabi Shimon bar Yochai just before his death (Bnei Yissaschar Iyar 3:3). The Chasam Sofer writes (Shu”t Chasam Sofer, Yoreh Deah 233) that the Jewish people ate the matzah that they had brought out with them from Egypt for 30 days, and after going without bread for three days, the mann started to fall for the first time on 18 Iyar — Lag BaOmer.

The Midrash teaches (Tanchuma Beshalach 20) that the Torah was only given to those who purified their bodies by eating mann, hinting that the arrival of the mann on Lag BaOmer set the stage for the giving of the Torah.

The kabbalists teach that the seven weeks of Sefiras HaOmer correspond to the lower seven mystical sefiros (Divine attributes) — chessed (kindness), gevurah (strength), tiferes (beauty), netzach (eternity), hod (splendor), yesod (foundation) and malchus (kingship). Applying Rav Schorr’s insight, Harav Yisroel Reisman points out that the first two weeks correspond to chag, which is an abbreviation for chessed and gevurah, as well as the word for the Yom Tov of Pesach, since these are the weeks of Avodah.

The middle third of the Omer counting parallels the sefiros of tiferes, netzach and hod. The first letters of each of these three attributes spell tenah, which is the Hebrew word for “give,” as this portion of the Omer represents Gemilus Chassadim. The final weeks in this period correspond to yesod and malchus, which can be abbreviated as “yam,” an allusion to the yam (sea) of Torah that we should focus on in preparation for Shavuos.

However, this time of the Jewish calendar is bittersweet, for at the same time that we enthusiastically count toward the giving of the Torah, we also adopt certain practices of mourning because of the tragic deaths of 24,000 of Rabi Akiva’s students during these weeks. Nevertheless, there is a universal custom to rejoice on Lag BaOmer, for on this day his students stopped dying (Shulchan Aruch, Orach Chaim 493:2). As there are no coincidences in Judaism, why did they specifically cease dying at this time?

According to Rav Schorr’s explanation, Rav Reisman suggests that while Rabi Akiva’s students may have had shortcomings in certain areas of their lives, with respect to their Torah study their commitment and dedication were impeccable. Thus, when the portion of the Omer that corresponds to Torah arrived, they stopped dying.

My dear cousin Shaya Gross, z”l, whose fifth yahrtzeit is this Shabbos (13 Iyar), points out that the Gemara teaches (Yevamos 62b) that Rabi Akiva’s disciples died because they didn’t display appropriate respect toward each other. The kabbalists teach that just as each of the seven weeks of Sefiras HaOmer parallels one of the seven sefiros, so too does each of the seven days of each week also correspond to one of the sefiros. According to their calculations, the mystical attribute for Lag BaOmer is hod she’b’hod.

Each of the seven sefiros is aligned with one of the seven ushpizin, and hod is the attribute of Aharon. Thus, Lag BaOmer, which corresponds to hod she’b’hod, is the day of the Omer that represents the ultimate embodiment of Aharon’s unique greatness, which was to love and pursue peace, and to love all people and draw them close to the Torah (Avos 1:12). Not surprisingly, the day on which Aharon’s dedication to shalom reigns supreme was the day on which Rabi Akiva’s students rectified their interpersonal squabbles and stopped dying.

Additionally, in the Torah’s list of the Jewish people’s 48 encampments in the wilderness (Bamidbar 33:1-49), the 33rd stop was Mount Hor, the place where Aharon died and is buried (Bamidbar 20:25-26). This further underscores the connection between Aharon and Lag BaOmer, which traditionally falls during the week of Parashas Emor, the parashah that deals with the laws governing Aharon’s descendants, the Kohanim.

Q: A mother cow and her calf were knowingly ritually slaughtered within seconds of one another, yet nobody transgressed the prohibition (Vayikra 22:28) against shechting a mother and her offspring on the same day. How is this possible?

A: The Mishnah teaches that for the purposes of the prohibition against slaughtering a mother and her offspring on the same day, the day is defined as beginning and ending at sunset. Accordingly, the Meshech Chochmah writes that if a mother is separated from her child and they are located in separate time zones, such that it is still daytime in one of their locations while nightfall has already come for the other, it is permissible to knowingly shecht both of them, for they are not legally being slaughtered “on the same day.”


Originally from Kansas City, Rabbi Alport graduated from Harvard, learned in Mir Yerushalayim for five years, and now lives in Brooklyn, where he learns in Yeshivas Beis Yosef, is the author of the recently published sefer Parsha Potpourri, and gives weekly shiurim. To send comments to the author or to receive his divrei Torah weekly, please email oalport@Hamodia.com.