It is appropriate that the parsha this week speaks about the festivals, specifically Pesach and Shavuos, as we are currently holding in that time period. This time period is referred to as 'sefiras ha'omer,' which, interestingly, means the counting of the omer. What is unusual about this is that the omer is the sacrifice, which is spoken about in this week's parsha, as well, which is brought on the second day of Pesach. Why is this time period referred to as the counting of the omer? This would seem to imply that this entire period is connected to that sacrifice. What is the significance of the sacrifice? And why is it brought on the second day of Pesach, as opposed to the first day? Why is it brought on a day of Chol Hamoed, of the weekday of the holiday, and not the holiday itself? This is especially challenging as this korban and counting seem to connect Pesach to Shavuos, so we would think the first day of Pesach should be connected to Shavuos. Why is it that the connection begins on the second day?
As we examine the details of the verses that speak of the Korban Ha'omer, and the specific laws of the omer, we encounter more ideas that require explanation. The Torah introduces the command to bring the Korban ha'omer by saying "כי תבואו אל הארץ" - "when you come to the land." On the surface level, this is reference to the fact that the Jewish people would not be performing this mitzvah until they entered the land of Israel, as it is a מצוה התלויה בארץ - a commandment that is dependent on the land. The midrash says that the explanation is even deeper than this. The very bringing of the korban ha'omer itself, says the midrash, was the merit for a number of things, which we will discuss. The first of them is that it was the cause for the Jewish people to be able to enter into the land of Israel. What about the korban omer (and perhaps the counting of the omer, as well) creates the merit for the entrance into Israel?
It is also interesting that the midrash makes note of the connection between the 'omer' (which is a certain dry measure) of barley which is brought as the korban ha'omer, and the 'omer' measure of the 'mon' (manna), which was eaten by the Jews in the wilderness. It says that despite the fact that each and every Jew would receive an 'omer' of 'mon,' which added up to many 'omers,' Hashem would suffice Himself with a single 'omer' for Himself. Not only that, but instead of wheat, He only asks for barley. (End midrash.) We also see that there is another connection between these two omers. The Jews stopped receiving the mon as they stood on the threshold of the land of Israel, right before (or on) the first day of Pesach. They immediately brought the first korban ha'omer as they came into the land. This clearly brings out the contrast between these two omers, as well as the idea stated in the previous paragraph, that the omer was the merit for the Jews entrance into Israel. What is the deeper significance of this connection?
In exploring the details of this korban, we see that it is brought from barley (שעורה). What is the significance of this, especially in contrast to wheat, as mentioned in the midrash? Furthermore, we have the command to do תנופה, waving the sacrifice in all directions, similar to the movement we do with a lulav. What is the significance of this?
There is one more midrash I would like to share that is especially interesting and perplexing. The midrash notes a number of times in Jewish history that the mitzvah of the korban ha'omer was the merit for salvation in the time of Gidon, Chizkiyah and Haman. The last of the three is the one I would like to focus on. The midrash says that when Mordechai saw Haman coming with the horse in his hands, he assumed that Haman was coming to kill him. He immediately wrapped himself in his talis and began to pray to Hashem. His students were studying in front of him, and Haman came and asked them what they were studying. They told him they were learning about the commandment of the omer, which was brought on that very day. (This part of the story of the megilla occurred on the second day of Pesach.) Haman asked them, "What is this omer made out of, gold or silver?" They responded, "It is made of barley." He then asked them if it was valued at ten silver bricks. They responded that it is enough if it values ten מעה. (A מעה is 1/240 of a silver brick, so the value of the omer, which is ten מעה, is 1/24 of a silver brick.) Haman then said to the students, "Get up, for your ten has overcome my ten thousand." (This is reference to the ten thousand silver bricks he had offered Achashverosh in exchange for the ability to destroy the Jewish people.)
אין המדרש אומר אלא דרשני
This midrash needs explanation from beginning to end.
To begin to understand this, I would like to share a beautiful thought that Hashem gave me this week. It is extremely relevant to the discussion at hand, as we go from Pesach, where we eat only Matzah, to Shavuos, where there was a special offering, which included the שתי הלחם, the two loaves. What was unique about these two loaves was that it was unusual by the fact that it contained chametz (leavening), as opposed to almost all of the offerings in the Beis Hamikdash, that were specifically not permitted to be allowed to become chametz (leavened).
As numerous commentaries point out, there is a very slight difference between the word מצה, matzah, and חמץ, leavened items. They both have the letter mem and tzadi, however, matzah has the letter 'heh' and chametz has the letter 'ches.' Even these two letters are extremely similar. The only difference is that the the 'heh' is open on the left side, and the 'ches' is closed on the left side. This difference is especially significant in light of the fact that we find a statement in chazal saying that the world was created with the letter 'heh.' This was done so that the one who 'falls out of the bottom of the heh,' that is, the one who falls into physicality, which is represented by the open space on the bottom of the 'heh,' can have another place to return through. This is the space on the top left of the heh.
The ches, in contrast, is completely closed on the top left side. With Hashem's help, it occurred to me that the ches represents the 'closed thinking' of the yetzer hara, the evil inclination. The concept of chametz is connected to the שאור שבעיסה, the leavening in the bread, which is classically used in chazal as a reference to the evil inclination. In the world of ego, there is not way back in. There is only a bottomless pit of desire, which is founded on falsehood, a space on the bottom of the ches, as it were, where one falls out and can never return. (הקנאה והתאווה והכבוד מוציאין את האדם מן העולם) The letter heh, however, represents a different type of space. It is a space where one can climb back in, the space of removal of ego, of removal of the שאור שבעיסה, the leavening in the bread. This is the matzah, that flat bread we eat on Pesach.
What is the secret of climbing back through that space? The secret is something we have spoken about over the past few weeks. It is the focus outwards, the focus away from oneself. But in order to do this, one must look at the most physical aspects of himself, and accept them. מתוך שלא לשמה בא לשמה - it must be in this order. You can only get to lishmah by starting in its opposite.
There is a transformation process whereby the conditional love (lo lishma) is converted into unconditional love. This is the secret of the שעורה - the barley. The letter עין (ayin) is interchangeable, as we have explained previously, with the letter אלף (alef). The alef has a numerical value of one, and represents the higher reality, the reality of Keser, that which is beyond logic - unconditional love. The letter ayin has a value of seventy, which is a flattening of that higher aspect, into conditional love. The amazing thing is that conditional love just needs to be converted back into unconditional love. This is possible because within the ayin is the alef itself. מתוך שלא לשמה בא לשמה means that within the conditional is unconditional. The words literally mean "within the conditional comes unconditional!"
The result is that the word שעורה actually is a lowered version of שאור - the leavening. Leavening itself is extreme physicality and ego, and שעורה - which we refer to as animal food - is an even deeper level of ego, pulled down further into the seventy of the letter ayin. The tenufah - the waving of the omer represents the idea that even the lowest aspect of ourselves, the most physical, is to be loved unconditionally and thereby transformed into a vehicle for the service of Hashem. Thus we wave it in the four directions, as well as up and down, in recognition of the fact that this physicality is to be dedicated to Hashem, who loves us unconditionally.
The עומר (omer) also has the letter ayin replacing the alef of the word אומר, because it represents the unconditional love communication of speech, falling into a lowered state of the seventy, of conditional love. The goal of the omer is to transform the animal, the conditional, back into human, to unconditional. This is a process that specifically begins on the second day of Pesach. On the first day of Pesach there is an obligation to eat Matzah, which represents complete lack of ego. It is the lishma (unconditional) within the lo lishma (conditional), that we have uncovered and focused in on in order to begin the transformation process. The process then begins - specifically on the weekday of Pesach, when there is no longer an obligation to eat matzah. When we return to our natural physical selves, we begin to find the lishma within the lo lishma, and begin to move toward lishma there, as well.
In a similar way, the Jews walked through the desert for forty years, each person eating an 'omer' measure of mon (manna). This corresponds to the first day of Pesach, where there was a moment of egolessness, of pure lishma, of complete focus on unconditional love. Then the Jewish people enter into the land of Israel, where their job is to begin working within the world, transforming the physical into the spiritual, the conditional into the unconditional. This was why the first mitzvah was the korban ha'omer, and it was the merit they had to enter into Israel, as well, for it was the understanding and the lesson they needed in order to walk into the physical reality and begin the important work there.
This is the work of the time period of sefiras ha'omer, when we begin with a spark of inspiration - the matzah, and we start immediately thereafter our work toward Shavuos, climbing from the deepest depths of physicality to the point where the physical is completely transformed - even the chametz itself is used in our service of Hashem.
This was why the students of R' Akiva passed away during this time. It wasn't that they did not respect each other at all. It was that they did not have this complete unconditional love that was supposed to be developed for true success. This was what R' Akiva taught - ואהבת לרעך כמוך - love your friend as yourself. This was the message that had to be internalized during this period, that they did not understand, and therefore perished.
This was what Haman was saying. He represented the ultimate in conditional love - amalek - who denies Hashem, their very creator. Haman wants to destroy an entire nation because he can not even feel love for himself if someone doesn't bow down to him. He is the ultimate in conditional love. His ten thousand silver talents represent the destructive force of conditional love. And the ten seemingly insignificant מעה of value of barley are the power of unconditional love that even he admits in the end overcomes him and transforms the physical into spiritual