Spirituality on the Run
The first day of Pesach begins a unique period in the annual Jewish lifecycle: Sefiras Ha’Omer. During this 49 day period, the Jew counts each day, week, and month leading up to Shavuos, the holiday celebrating the giving of the Torah. Historically, when the Jews left Egypt, these seven weeks served as a spiritual purification period in order to prepare them for their encounter at Sinai. Today we follow in their footsteps in order to come closer to the Almighty and His Torah.
Preparing for a spiritual encounter makes sense. If you were to visit the palace of a king, you would need to make sure that you could meet the requirements of that rarified environment. You would make sure to visit at an appropriate time, dress in your finest clothing, and make sure to behave respectfully. In fact, without meeting these specifications, you probably wouldn’t be allowed to visit the palace at all! If you didn’t abide by the rules, you might even find yourself being put on trial. How much more so ought we express our respect for the King of all kings.
However, when a citizen is in a life-threatening situation being pursued by his enemies, he may run into the king’s palace in order to seek refuge. No one would blame him for it. He may be dirty, wearing ripped clothing, and the hour may be midnight, but no one will put him on trial for entering the palace without prior appointment and appropriate bearing. When a person’s life is at stake, the rules change.
Our relationship with our own King began on the run. By the end of our period of subjugation in Egypt, the Jewish People had sunken down to the forty-ninth level of spiritual blockage. As far as our sensitivities to G-dliness and holiness were concerned, we were almost like deaf-mutes, almost entirely numb and blinded to anything spiritual. Had we sunken to the fiftieth level of tumah, spiritual blockage, we would never have been able to emerge intact. But our salvation arrived just in time. The Almighty rode in, swept us off our proverbial feet, and carried us off into the sunset, as it were. We leapt from the grimiest melting pot imaginable directly into the kedushah of the Almighty’s outstretched arms. Though we were unworthy of entering “the palace” of such an open revelation of the Almighty’s presence, standard procedure was discarded in favor of saving our lives. We were in perhaps the greatest danger we had ever faced as a nation and immediate action was called for, regardless.
However, once our lives had been saved, we were able to begin changing ourselves into the kind of people who could appreciate the spirituality we had just witnessed. We began a process lasting forty-nine days, counting every day and making every day count. By the time we reached the revelation at Sinai, we were ready. We had made ourselves into the vessels we had to be in order to truly spiritually receive what we were to be given.
Sitting at the Pesach seder, we begin the evening by reciting the names of the various mitzvos about to take place. The order of the Pesach Seder begins with kadesh – sanctify - and then rechatz – wash. Though these are the names of mitzvos we perform during the seder, these words also hint at the process we went through leaving Egypt.
Usually one first distances leaves behind the impure – “cleansing” oneself – and only afterwards goes through the process of sanctification, becoming sacred and holy. The night we left Egypt was different: first, we were sanctified, exposed to extraordinary miracles and holiness so that we would not fall completely into the depths of sin – kadesh. Only after that did we begin to purify ourselves from tum’ah – rechatz, cleansing.
Now, during Sefiras Ha’Omer, we can begin living up to the holiness and love that we were shown.