G-D ALMIGHTY, ARE WE FREE AT LAST?
If you're anything like me, you don't really think about counting the Omer much in December. And even if you did, it wouldn't seem like such a big deal. Seven weeks? No problem.
If you're anything like me, you don't really think about counting the Omer much in December. And even if you did, it wouldn't seem like such a big deal. Seven weeks? No problem. Then, of course, comes April, and the enormous task of preparing for Passover approaches. With the daunting task of the cleaning, preparing, and heeding to every slight halachic detail for literally weeks before the first seder, who's really thinking about the Omer? Not me.
It's usually during the first seder that the thought crosses my mind. Needless to say, the confidence I had back in December (if the Omer even crossed my mind then) is nowhere to be found. Instead, I look for an excuse, and the best I can find comes from Homer Simpson when he confidently assures his daughter on April 14th that he paid his taxes over a year ago.
The truth of the matter is, counting the seven-week Omer is an important mitzvah to fulfill every year. The Omer connects Passover, a festival commemorating our freedom, with Shavuot, which commemorates the day that we, as a nation, received the Torah. The link between these two festivals cannot be ignored.
As Rabbi Yehudah Prero, a contemporary Torah scholar, explains the giving of the Torah was really the completion and perfection of the new nation's freedom. Back then, and still today, it is only with a set of laws, that a society can really function properly. We are grateful for the Torah, without which we really could not be free.
Once the Torah was given, the Jewish people were no longer servants to man; they became servants to G-d. About 30 years ago, in San Francisco, Rabbi Shlomo Carlebach told a group of a question posed by Reb Nachman, the great Chassidic sage: Are we G-d's servant, or people's servant? There is no in between, and everybody is somebody's servant. Rabbi Carlebach said that if you are G-d's servant, then you are the freest person in the world because you know exactly what is right, and therefore you don't need to listen to anybody who tells you what to do. (Needless to say, we're not talking about our parents telling us to take out the garbage or our professors telling us to turn in that paper on The Fourteen Points on time.)
What your soul tells you is right. If you are man's servant, Rabbi Carlebach said, you are a slave. If you are G-d's servant, "you are completely free-really, really free."
By counting the 49 days between the second night of Passover and the festival of Shavuot, we are celebrating our freedom. We are celebrating our ability to serve G-d, and the freedom that He has given us with which to do so. Not all Jews have had that freedom, and we must appreciate the fact that we do. And we must use that freedom wisely.
P.S. You might want to save this article and read it again in December.
Noah Hartman, an alumnus of Yeshiva Atlanta, writes from Los Angeles.
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