This week's parsha
Giving G-d Your Challenges
Remember when your teacher made a mistake during her lesson but when corrected she said, "Just making sure that you were listening…" Inaccuracies have a way of catching our attention. Spelling mistakes, crooked pictures, mathematical slips -- they all shout out "fix me."
It is this feature of the human condition that G-d triggers over and over again in the Torah. He plants therein seeming errors and inconsistencies, hoping that the reader will stop and think about a way to resolve the "mistake."
This tool is employed in the Torah's discussion regarding the Counting of the Omer, where there seems to be an obvious mathematical flaw. After the first day of Passover we are commanded to count each day in anticipation of the holiday of Shavuot (when we received the Torah at Mount Sinai). "And you should count for yourselves from the morrow of the rest day... seven weeks," begins the verse, and then the next verse concludes, "...count fifty days" (Leviticus 23:14-15). This is confusing since seven weeks would set Shavuot immediately following forty-nine days of counting, not fifty.
So we are forced to take a deeper look at the commandment to count the Omer. The most basic reason that we count is to mimic the Jews who left Egypt. They were so excited about the prospect of receiving the Torah that they counted down the days. We try to relive this experience each year through counting the Omer.
But there is also a deeper reason for the counting. The Hebrew word for counting is sefirah. Using the same letters we can spell the word sapir, a shining sapphire. What is the connection? On each day leading up to the giving of the Torah, the Jews took time to refine themselves, to make their characters shine. And each year we do the same. From Passover until Shavuot we engage in a forty-nine day process of self-refinement.
Anyone who has tried to work through a character flaw will concede that it is very difficult. The famous 19th century scholar Rabbi Yisroel Salanter once commented that it is easier to learn through the entire Talmud than it is to change one ugly characteristic. And even if there seems to be a shift today, how can I know that tomorrow won't bring back the same old demon?
G-d Himself concedes to this challenge. The Torah instructs us to count forty-nine days. Work hard, challenge yourself to go beyond your comfort zone and to weed out those destructive behaviors. And then, says G-d, I will give you a gift; the gift of making your self-corrective efforts more concrete and far reaching. This is the fiftieth step of the process. You count forty-nine steps -- do your part, G-d says -- and that will be equivalent to counting fifty steps. I will do the finishing touches for you.
It is so important to ask G-d to help us work through our inner challenges. He is waiting to help us and He is most inspired to help those who take the grueling work of self-refinement seriously.