Pesach and Shavuos are intrinsically connected. Amidst the numerous Mitzvos and customs of this time of year, the connection between them can sometimes be evasive. Join me in this article to clarify and add meaning to our appreciation of these mitzvos and how we can use them to prepare for Shavuos.
We begin with the mitzvah of Sefiras Haomer, counting of the Omer on the eve of the second night of Pesach for 49 days takes us up to the night before Shavuos. The source of this mitzvah is in Parshas Emor and reads: וספרתם לכם ממחרת השבת…..
“And you will count for yourself from the day after….”
There are two other examples in the Torah where the word לכם is used in similar circumstances. In relation to the Mitzvah of Lulav and Esrog, it says: ולקחתם לכם ביום הראשון. The word לכם here is telling us that the Lulav and Esrog must belong to us, and using a stolen set will not suffice to earn us a mitzvah. On Shmini Atzeres, the word לכם in the phrase: ביום שמיני עצרת תהי׳ לכם teaches us that the purpose of the Yom Tov is that ה׳ wants to celebrate a Yom Tov alone with the Jewish people. During the previous days of Sukkos, the sacrifices brought were for the benefit of all the nations of the world that ה׳ created, and now G-d wants to spend private time with us. In both of these cases the word לכם serves to expand our understanding of the mitzvah it is describing. In examining Sefiras Haomer, the gemara elucidates the word לכם and teaches us that in order for the commandment to be sufficiently fulfilled, individuals must count by themselves, and not rely on being included in another person’s brachah. But there is more…
In the temple times, the Omer offering consisted of barley, essentially animal food that was specially prepared for the offering. Once the Omer offering was brought, the people counted seven full weeks. What is the significance of seven weeks, and what did they count?
These weeks are called Sefiras Haomer, not because we count the Omer, but because the preparation and offering of the Omer becomes a framework of our counting. Both people and animals have intellect and emotions, positioned quite differently. Man has intellect that directs his emotions and animals have emotions that drive their intellect. It is our emotions, our drives, our instincts that we strive to make beautiful and holy during Sefiras Haomer. The physical process of preparing the Omer offering refined the animal food and only the finest, a small fraction of the amount they started with, was offered to ה׳. Then, from a practical human perspective, each of the seven emotive characteristics of חסד, גבורה etc. in combination with each other gives us 49, and each day of Sefiras Haomer we are practically working to refine one of them. By the time we reach Shavuos, we should have made progress in purifying all of our Midos.
And that is the lesson of the word לכם, you, yourself, each individual will take the initiative of the internal work necessary to attempt to improve their personal attributes and qualities. Each Shabbos between Pesach and Shavuos we learn Pirkei Avos, Ethics of the Fathers which are the tools that give us direction in the task of working on our Midos in the weeks leading up to Shavuos. Many communities continue to say Pirkei Avos throughout the summer up until Rosh Hashana.