The Jew and the Omer: An Ecological Synthesis

by The Pilzno Rebbe, Rav Yehoshua Gerzi of Eretz Yisrael.


To my dear friends, imagine for a moment being in sync and balanced with the world around us, feeling physically well, emotionally content, mentally fulfilled, and spiritually sound. For the majority of us, we remember a time when all four of these elements were working in harmony. This sort of balance is, in fact, the way of the natural world. A newborn baby lives in a state of perfectly aligned experience, living free of the complexities which pervade our lives and distance us from the balance we seek. This spiritual balance is depend upon the harmony of three factors: olam (place), shana (time), and nefesh (our souls). These concepts manifest in a variety realms, including our psychology, history, ecology, and relationships. If we could maintain a balance, we could in fact bring things closer to a sustainable path.

As human beings, we find ourselves bound within the finite and limited dimensions of space and time. It is our goal as Jews to use our infinite soul to guide us through this physical world, and bring holiness into the people and places around us. I’m sure you are all already familiar with the various grounds upon which the Torah commands us to revere, respect, and work to improve the world around us. The question is what method we are to implement in accomplishing this task. My friends, the message I would like to share with you today is that we must first seek to balance ourselves. Recognizing the spatial and temporal circumstances around us, we must develop our spirituality in a suitable and harmonious manner. Once we grow as spiritual beings, we can again refer back to our dimensions of space and time, in order that our souls contribute to the healing of the world.

If we go back to Bereishis, we read that Adam was commanded to maintain the garden. This was our managerial role in the world before eating from the tree. Adam’s Olam (place) Shana (time) and Nefesh (soul) were working together. However, since Adam’s sin, we live in a radically different world, a world of disassociation and confusion. One often does not know whether one is coming or going. As a result, feeling fulfilled is far more difficult. We must work on aligning our Olam (place) Shana (time) and Nefesh (soul), to bring balance into our lives. When we look to the natural world, we see the beauty of Hashem’s creations fulfilling their function in perfect harmony. So too with us, when we keep Torah and mitzvoth, our lives become more enriching our lives as our senses are heightened, refined, and integrated. Then we can utilize our G-D given creativity and individuality to become more effective in all areas of our lives.

Getting in touch with our proper expressions of Olam, Shana, and Nefesh is not an easy task; indeed, it is an exhausting process, much like the birth of a nation or a child. Let us look at the Exodus from Egypt, and see if we can draw a correlation. We first became planted in Egypt (Olam), where conditions gradually began to deteriorate, much like a seed. Then, we left Egypt and embarked on a journey through time (Shana), until we were ready to receive the highest level of wisdom and life, the Torah (Nefesh). This also mirrors the process of pregnancy: fertilization, trimesters, and birth.

There is another important teaching to take in to consideration as well. Why are three different terms used to describe freedom throughout the Chumash? The Torah refers to 1) Cheyrus, 2) Pidyon and 3) we are called Bnei Chorin. Wouldn’t Cheyrus have been enough? The answer can be found in our previous discussion of Place, Time, and Soul and the need for balance and completion. If we had just been given Cheyrus, freedom of place, we would still have a slave mentality. Therefore, we are given Pidyon, which is the change in the ones psychological status that comes through the development of a process in time. However, Pidyon is still insufficient, as we still would not have a way to propel ourselves forward. Therefore, we are called Bnei Chorin, which means to say that we have a mission and an ultimate goal.

With the prior teachings, we are now poised to understand a primary function of counting or telling over the omer “sefiras ha’omer.” We must take in to consideration that in Judaism, our festivals and remembrances are not merely demarcations of past occurrences; they are auspicious times where we re-experience the event itself. In regards to the sefira, we are told to count, or recall the days so we can remember the mission of our existence, as we are told in the Talmud Menachos 43b ”remembering leads to action.” When we count the omer, we must reaffirm our commitment to doing our job in the world: being conscious of our environment (Olam), utilizing our time (shana), and fulfilling the will of the soul (nefesh). If all of Bnei Yisrael properly approach the period of the Omer, focusing on growth and self-rectification, we would have tremendous potential to impact change in the world.

Furthermore, the period of the Omer is a chance to purify ourselves in order to receive the Torah on Shavuot, as we are taught throughout our tradition, (Allusions in Midrash Raba 9:3, Avot 2:2) “Derech Eretz, Cadma L’Torah”- we first excel in the ways of the land (refined character) before receiving the Torah. Each day is a fresh opportunity to be conscious of our freedom from slavery (Olam), acknowledge the potential for bringing transformative change to our selves and the world (shana), and look towards a time when the grace of the Torah will be revealed to the whole world, and we can truly experience how life is meant to be (nefesh).

To end with a story; a young man becoming more observant came to the Rebbe, Yisrael of Rizhin and said “I am trying my best to do as much of Torah and mitzvot as possible but I and just not feeling ‘it’.” The Rebbe responded why does is say in the amida ‘Elokay Avraham, Elokay Yitzchak, Elokay Yaakov’? Let us just say Eloky Avraham Yitzchak and Yaakov? The answer given was that we must find our own connection to Hashem. Avraham taught Yitzchak to have his own special connection; the same with Yaakov and with us. We must remember to constantly work on ourselves, and through Torah and Mitzvos, we can develop our own unique relationships with Hashem. As we know, self discovery and Torah work hand in hand as told over by the Vilna Goan in his book Even Shlama 1:2 ”If we don’t work on bettering ourselves what is the point of life?”

The period of the Omer is precisely this time to appreciate our freedom and pursue personal growth. One way is to refine our interactions with the world around. We should remember that the Torah is bountiful, and always advances a “win-win” mentality. Observing the natural world reminds us that greed, war, and bitterness are products of our own failings as humans. As nature innately performs the greatest good possible, so too the children of Israel should strive to do so, bringing Torah, Mitzvahs, and the refinement of character into their lives. Our opportunity is to move beyond the superficial in order to see, hear and feel the good in everything.

As we continue to count the days of the Omer until Shavuot, we should be cognizant of unique opportunities inherent in this special time. We should walk along our streets, our parks, our mountains, and our streams so that we should recognize both the tremendous beauty, as well as the impending perils to our cherished spaces of life. Then we must look into ourselves, meditate upon the extraordinary gift the creator has bestowed onto us: our soul and its divine faculty of creative activity. Once we have begun this process of spiritual growth, we may begin to live our lives as the cultivated, balanced, and moral beings that we were engendered to be, blessing and healing the world with our daily actions.

Good luck on your journey and as the previous Pilzno Rebbe would say, “Always walk with Hashem and Hashem should make you successfully in all your ways.”