A Chassidic Discourse-Usifartmen Lachem

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Usifartem Lachem.…

[Likkutei Torah p. 35]

Parshas Emor discusses the Mitzvah of celebrating the festivals. It goes through each one of the festivals, with its unique commands and prohibitions. The festival of Shavuos is proximate to the Holiday of Pesach, falling on the fiftieth day, after 49 days of counting, after the second day of Pesach. What relationship do Pesach and Shavuos share that they occur in such close proximity to each other, and why are they connected through the Mitzvah of Sefiras Haomer? Each Holiday in the Jewish calendar represents not only a commemoration of past events and a time of Holiday to learn Torah and think of G-d, but also reflects on a specific service of G-d relevant to that Holiday. On each Holiday, we are meant to work on a different aspect of our faith and Divine service. In this Mamar, the Alter Rebbe delves into the unique service of G-d that is exclusive to the Holidays of Pesach and Shavuos and the connection between them. The service of Pesach serves as a prelude for the service of Shavuos, while the service of Shavuos serves as a complement to the service that began during Pesach. This leads to an interesting discussion on the service of G-d required from the two souls contained within each Jew – the animal soul and the G-dly soul. Contrary to the belief that existed prior to the teachings of the Baal Shem Tov, the animal soul is also entitled and obligated to serve G-d. The Torah and Mitzvos were not given solely for the Jew’s G-dly soul to perform in face of the opposition of the Yeitzer Hara, but even more so for the sake of the Yeitzer Hara, so that it too would recognize the greatness of Hashem and dedicate its energy towards this service. While the Holiday of Pesach serves as an electric bolt of energy for the G-dly soul’s fervor and passion in attaching to G-d, the Holiday of Shavuos injects this energy also into the animal soul so that it too would be able to serve G-d. The secret behind this ability of the animal soul’s G-dly inspirations lies in the Avoda of Sefiras Haomer, which preludes the Holiday of Shavuos. This Mamar instills new meaning and enthusiasm into these Mitzvos and assists to fulfill them with greater concentration and desire.


Explorations of the Mamar:

1.       What relationship do Pesach and Shavuos share that they come into such close proximity with each other, and why are they connected through the Mitzvah of Sefiras Haomer?

2.       What unique Divine service applies on Pesach and Shavuos?

3.       What is the inner meaning behind the Mitzvah of Sefiras Haomer?

4.       Why was the Omer offering brought from barley, and why do we have to begin to count after it is offered?



The Mitzvah of Sefirah:

The verse states, “Usifartem Lachem Mimacharas Hashabbos Meyom Haviachem Es Omer Hatenufa/You shall count for yourselves the day after Shabbos from the day that the Omer offering is brought”. The term Usifartem literally means “to count”. It, however, can also mean to “shine”, with its root in the expression “Even Sapir”, a sapphire stone that shines. Likewise, we also find that the ten attributes of Hashem are called Sefiros, as they shine with Hashem’s Divine light. Accordingly, the meaning of the command of Usifartem Lachem is not just to merely count the days but to have the days shine into you, to draw the ten Sefiros below into yourselves. To understand this matter, and how one is to accomplish it, we must first introduce the spiritual service associated with the Holidays of Pesach and Shavuos. On Pesach we left Egypt, while on Shavuos we received the Torah. Prior to receiving the Torah, we had to count seven complete weeks and only afterwards could we receive the Torah. Pesach and Sefiras Haomer each represent a different service of G-d that prepares us for Kabbalas HaTorah

Pesach is Ratzo-Electric passion of the G-dly soul:

On Pesach, we experience the Divine service of Ratzo, while on Shavuos we experience the Divine service of Shuv. Literally, Ratzo means “to run,” while Shuv means to sit, two opposite states of man. We left Egypt in a state of Chipazon/hurry, being rushed to exit without enough time to even leaven our bread. This physical occurrence was a result of the spiritual exodus that we experienced when we left Egypt. At the time of the Exodus, upon leaving Egypt, Hashem Himself was revealed to us. This caused a revolution within our spiritual state. Our souls and revealed consciousness went from a state of complete distance from G-d, having been entrenched within the 39 gates of impurity of sin and idolatry, to a state of ecstatic love and passion for G-d. In moments, we leaped from the state of a sinner to the state of a Tzaddik, which culminated seven days later with the experience of prophecy by even the maidservants of the nation. This is the spiritual state of Ratzo, the spiritual exodus to instantly escape evil without any dialogue or twelve-step programs.  

The daily Yetzias Mitzrayim-Exodus from Egypt:

The exodus from Egypt plays a major role in our spiritual duties and commandments today. We are commanded to remember the Exodus daily and perform many Mitzvos in memory of the Exodus. The reason for this is not just in order to remember G-d’s kindness, but mainly to serve as a message that in truth the Exodus has not yet come to a closure, and in fact we are obligated to daily perform our own spiritual exodus and escape the concealments and setbacks caused by our animal soul. This is directly noted in the saying of the Sages that, “In every generation one must view himself as if he left Egypt”, as in truth each day we must re-experience the Exodus. How is this accomplished? Through the Divine service of prayer, in which one contemplates G-dly matters and arouses within his heart a passionate fire of attachment to G-d. In truth, a Jew is able to reach a state of love and passion for G-d that is fierier than any relationship imaginable, including the relationship between a man and woman. [In the Rambam’s words [Teshuvah 1/3]: “What is the befitting love of G-d? That one love G-d with a great and powerful exploding love, to the point that his mind is not free for any other matter. He is constantly involved in his feeling of love for G-d, similar to a man that is infatuated with the love of a certain woman, and he constantly thinks of her wherever he goes and throughout whatever he is doing. When he eats, she is on his mind and heart, when he sleeps, she is on his mind and heart. All the more so is one able to reach an infatuation for the attachment to Hashem, as it says in the verse, “Bechol levavcha/With all your heart”. On this love, King Shlomo stated, “I am sickly in love”, and as an expression of this infatuation he authored the song of Shir Hashirim.”] This feeling lays dormant within the Jew throughout the day and can only be aroused through deep concentration and vivid contemplation on G-d’s greatness, which brings him to this state of ecstatic feelings of love. This is experienced during prayer, upon reciting the words in the Shema prayer of Bechol Levavcha Ubechol Nafshicha. This is called Yetzias Mitzrayim, as one leaves the constraints and concealments that the animal soul causes to those feelings, and now fully expresses them, breaking through all the barriers and obstructions.   


The deficiency in the above service:

As great and powerful as the above service of G-d is, the experience is limited solely to the G-dly soul, while the animal soul is simply placed out of the way from being an obstruction to the experience. However, the animal soul itself experiences no exodus, but rather a simple tranquilizing drug that prevents it from concealing the body. In truth, however, the animal soul’s interests and lusts remain the same as before. It still desires to eat and experience pleasures, just like the nature of an animal. In order to receive the Torah, the animal soul must also become refined and go through its own spiritual revolution. The reason for this is because the entire purpose of the giving of the Torah is for the creations of below, which include a body and animal soul. If the Torah was meant for the G-dly soul alone, it would have sufficed to leave the souls in Gan Eden and to give them the Torah there. In truth, the entire purpose of Matan Torah is to bring revelation below and hence the animal soul must also be refined.

The Omer offering-The spiritual refinement of the animal soul:

How does one accomplish the refinement of the animal soul? This is done through the waving of the Omer and the consequential Mitzvah of Sefiras Haomer. The Omer offering was unique in that it came from barley, unlike other Mincha offerings that came from wheat throughout the year. Barley is an animal food [and is of utmost importance for livestock feeding. Animal barley-feed accounts for about 85% of barley production.] This is opposed to wheat, which is mainly food for humans. The word barley in Hebrew, “Seorah/שעורה”, stands for “”שעור-ה and represents the expiry of the soul of the spiritual animal kingdom found above in the upper worlds. Just as below there are animals that eat and refine the barley, similarly above there are spiritual beings that are called “animals”, such as the “face of the lion” and the “face of the ox”, and from them derive all the souls of the animals below. These spiritual beings go through a daily experience of rapturous love for Hashem that culminates in the expiry of their soul. These beings are then recreated each day. During their expiry, their souls are incorporated into the level of Biheima Raba. The level of Biheima Raba represents the Merkava, which is upheld by the face of the ox, eagle, and lion. Not only are the souls of the angels incorporated within this level of Biheima Raba, but all of the matters that we refine in the world below are also incorporated into that level. This is similar to the ingestion of the barley by the animals below. The matters that are refined are called “”שעור-ה, the “barley of Hashem”, as the souls are incorporated within the revealed level of Hashem called Biheima Raba. This “food” causes the level of Biheima Raba to be elevated and receive more G-dly energy. This is why the Kohen waved the Omer, as it represented the elevation of the Beirurim into the level of Beheima Raba.

Counting the Omer-Drawing refinement to the animal soul:

Once the Omer has been offered and the level of Biheima Raba has been infused with the G-dly light, we can begin drawing down its Divine light below into our animal soul, which is rooted in Biheima Raba. It is this G-dly revelation that helps refine the animal soul and make it pure to receive the commandments of the Torah on Shavuos. This is the inner meaning behind the count, “Today is such and such day of the Omer”, as the word “Yom” represents a revelation of Chesed, and hence each day we shine a different level of the Omer below into our animal soul. This is the meaning of the command of Usifartem Lachem, that one is commanded to draw down the Makkifim of the Omer into his soul. We do this for 49 days, refining the 49 Middos, and then we receive the Torah, which can now be accepted by both the animal and G-dly souls, and together they will serve Hashem and make for Him a dwelling place below.  


Lessons of the Mamar:

·         It does not suffice to simply quench the thirst of one’s G-dly soul through Torah and Mitzvos, as one must also work on his animal soul’s Divine service. One is to work on himself to refine his character and allow even his animal soul the ability to serve G-d.



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