The beginning of the end, or the end of the beginning?
The Passover seders are over. The Four Questions have been asked and answered, and we’ve all expressed “Next Year in Jerusalem!” We’ve done our part, progressing from spiritual slavery to freedom. In fact, many Haggadahs end with Chasalseder Pesach, “We have completed the Seder Pesach!”
At this point, it’s time to sit back and relax. Yet in a profound sicha (Chassidic discourse), the Lubavitcher Rebbe describes, not just the “rest” of the holiday, but the rest of the journey. This journey involves the three months of Nissan, Iyar and Sivan. In Nissan, we symbolically recall the Exodus from Egypt. In Iyar, we count sefirat haOmer. In Sivan, we celebrate the Giving of the Torah.
Interestingly, each month is associated with a specific type of food. Nissan is related to unleavened wheat (matzos). Iyar is linked to the barley offering (omer). On Shavuos, the Torah commands us to offer two loaves of leavened bread on the Altar. What do these offerings represent? How do they apply to our daily conduct?
In the Song of Songs (Shir HaShirim V1:4), King Solomon addresses these questions. He writes, “Draw me. We will run after you; the king has brought me into his chambers.” Each phrase applies to one of the months under discussion. “Draw me” refers to Nissan and the Exodus. At that time, the Jews were incapable of liberating themselves. Therefore, G-d actively drew them out physical bondage. However, this rescue only applied to each person’s nefesh elokis, innate G-dly soul. Even though the body came along, it remained attracted to its physical desires.
For this reason, the body, too, needed to break free of its constraints. This process took place — and continues to take place every year — during Iyar. Sefirat HaOmer empowers us to elevate the body. The goal isn’t to crush the body, but to train it to appreciate the spiritual aspects of life. For this reason, the omer was barley, which associated with animal feed. The days of Sefirat HaOmer are an opportune time for bringing holiness into every aspect of life — eating, drinking, business, even reading this article in the Pittsburgh Jewish Chronicle. This active effort is expressed by the last phrase of Proverbs 1:4, “We will run after you.”
“We” not only applies to the entire Jewish people. It also refers to both the Nefeish elokis, the G-dly soul within man, and the Nefesh HaBahamis, the animal soul that enlivens the human body. “We will run after you” indicates that we are taking the initiative, as opposed to being “taken out of bondage” by G-d. We are also “running,” joyfully serving G-d as free men, not slaves.
However, there is a further stage — meeting G-d at Mount Sinai. There, the Jewish people experienced the words of the Living G-d, who pronounced, “I am the Lrd your Gd, Who brought you out of the land of Egypt, out of the house of bondage,” and, “You shall have no other gods before Me,” along with the rest of the Ten Commandments.
Now we can understand the journey that occurred over Nissan, Iyar and Sivan, and the three types of food that are eaten at that time. On Pesach, we were slaves and became free. We eat unleavened bread to demonstrate our humility before the Creator. The omer period of Iyar is a time of the barley offering. It is also a time of transformation, when the animal soul within learns to love G-d, as we say the Shema prayer, “You should love G-d your G-d, with all your heart (including both holy and animalistic souls), with all your soul, and with all your might.” On Shavuos, we stand united with G-d. It is Sivan, the culmination of the three-month period of progress. At this point, we can offer loaves of leavened wheat on the Holy Altar.
According to our sages (Pesachim 116b, Tanya 1:47), “In every generation, and every day, a man is obligated to see himself as if he had gone out of Egypt that very day.” In other words, the process occurs daily! Upon waking, we say the Modeh Ani prayer, recognizing that G-d has given us the gift of another day. This corresponds to Nissan/matzah.
When we pray, we climb the ladder that goes from Psalms of Praise through Shema. This corresponds to Iyar/omer when the animal soul senses the presence of G-d. Finally, we reach Shemona Esrai (Amidah silent prayer). This corresponds to Sivan/Shavuos when we stand nullified before G-d. This mirrors the Giving of the Ten Commandments, when we partake of leavened bread in unity with our Creator.
When Moshiach comes, we will reach that level permanently. May it happen immediately in our days. PJC
Rabbi Yossi Rosenblum is CEO of Yeshiva Schools of Pittsburgh and rabbi of Congregation Kesser Torah. This column is a service of the Vaad Harabanim of Greater Pittsburgh.