The days of Sefirah are ending. We counted, day by day
approaching the fiftieth day, which is chag
The days of the Omer have a deep connection with the
holiday of Shavuos, when Klal Yisroel received the
Torah. As the Sefer Hachinuch explains, the counting
of the Omer is a way of expressing our anticipation
for the coming of the great day when Hashem will give us the
Although this is certainly a valid explanation for the forty-
nine day "countdown" preceding kabolas HaTorah,
nonetheless it leaves a few questions unanswered. Why, of
all the yomim tovim, is Shavuos preceded by a
countdown? Was the redemption from Egypt not an important
milestone worth counting towards? What about Yom Kippur, the
day when every Jew is completely cleansed of sin?
Furthermore, why is this count specifically for forty-nine
In order to answer these questions, we must probe deeper into
understanding the essence of Shavuos, and the forty-nine days
of Sefiras HaOmer.
The gemora (Pesochim 68b) relates that the Amora, Rav
Yosef used to eat only the choicest meat in celebration of
Shavuos. Rav Yosef explained, "Were it not for that day,
there are many Yosefs in the marketplace." Rashi explains:
"If it were not for that day, for I have learned Torah and I
have become elevated, there are many Yosefs in the
marketplace. What would be the difference between me and
This was Rav Yosef's explanation for his special celebration
of the day of matan Torah. Because of the giving of
the Torah to Klal Yisroel at Har Sinai, he was able to learn
Torah and to be elevated. Were it not for this romemus,
exclaimed Rav Yosef, I would have been a simple "Yosef in
the shuk" (and not the Torah giant he actually
In the Chumash we also find that giving the Torah to
Klal Yisroel brought us to a state of romemus.
Immediately after Maamad Har Sinai (Shmos 20, 17),
Moshe Rabbeinu tells Klal Yisroel "Hashem came [today] in
order to raise you up," as Rashi translates, ". . . to make
you great and to raise you up over the other nations."
This is Moshe Rabbeinu's summary of the purpose of Matan
Torah -- to give the opportunity to every Jew to be
misromem through the study of Torah and fulfillment of
mitzvos. This is what Rav Yosef said about himself: that
because of the day of Shavuos, he was raised up, and became
the great Rav Yosef and not "Yosef in the shuk." Rav
Yosef is teaching us that the simcha of Shavuos is the
recognition and appreciation of the romemus of Torah.
What is this romemus and how can we acquire it?
The gemora in Sanhedrin (99b) quotes a posuk
in Iyov which states, "Odom le'omeil yulad -
- man was born to toil." The gemora discusses the
meaning of this very important posuk. "For what type
of toil was man born?" asks the gemora. "Perhaps for
the toil of physical labor?" The gemora answers that
it is not for the toil of physical labor that man was born,
but rather for the toil of Torah study, as it says,
(Yehoshua 1) "Lo yomush sefer haTorah hazeh
mipicho -- the learning of Torah should never cease to
occupy your mouth."
The Maharal MiPrague is perplexed by this gemora. How,
he asks, could the gemora have thought that man was
born to toil in physical labor? What purpose can man possibly
achieve through this type of work?
The Maharal answers based on a very important principle of
human nature. Every man is born with an internal drive to
create. He desires to go beyond his own physical boundaries
and to make a true and lasting impression on the world around
him. The word "omeil," explains the Maharal, also
means to create. "Odom le'omeil yulad -- man was born
The desire to create is, in essence, a positive instinct. If
a person channels it properly -- towards spiritual
achievements -- he can achieve greatness. However, to a
certain extent, man can also fulfill his desire to create
with physical labor. When building great monuments, cities,
governments, economic systems and the like, man is creating --
but completely within the realm of the physical world. The
results are always temporary and very limited. Nevertheless,
it can seem to be so fulfilling that man may mistake
"omeil melocho" for his true purpose in life and
dedicate himself night and day to his work, defining himself
by his profession or social stature. This artificial feeling
of accomplishment and fulfillment can prevent one from
searching further, for the truly fulfilling toil of "omeil
Torah." Therefore, the gemora must point out that
it is not for omeil melocho that man was born, rather
for omeil Torah -- toil in Torah study. As Chazal warn
us in Pirkei Ovos: "Asei Torascho keva umelachtecho 'arai"
-- Torah must always remain the center of your life; your
work should be understood as only a temporary means.
This gemora reveals to us an important insight into
the nature of man. It is within man's capacity to completely
lose focus on life, thereby understanding the means as the
end. A person's occupation and daily toil, which are
necessary for his physical well-being, can become the primary
object of his attention, to the point where they are his
central focus in life. Without a proper and constant guide,
one can easily sink into the quicksand of life's more mundane
and trivial aspects, losing touch with the greater reality.
In the words of the Chovos Halevovos, "His stomach is
his god, his clothing his Torah, and his home a measure of
In order to overcome this dangerous tidal wave of spiritual
complacency, in order to remain true to ruchniyus
ideals in a world of gashmiyus, one must rise out
of the trenches of his day-to-day life. One must learn to
look at life through the wide angle lens of the greater
reality -- to live in G-d's world. One must be
Chazal tell us that this world is merely a vestibule before
the banquet hall of the World to Come. In order not to
mistake the vestibule for the banquet hall, we need the power
Romemus means retaining one's grasp on reality and
dedication to his true purpose in life despite the many
distractions which can cloud his vision. It means not getting
swept away by the time and energy-consuming toil which fills
our lives. Romemus means recognizing that man was born
for omeil Torah and not omeil melocho.
This power of romemus is what Klal Yisroel received on
yom Matan Toraseinu. Torah keeps us constantly
connected with the Ribono Shel Olom. It keeps us
focused on our true and ultimate purpose in life. By learning
Torah and fulfilling mitzvos, we are living in Hashem's
world, connected to the truth. We measure our successes in
spiritual -- rather than physical -- terms. We dedicate our
time and strength to acquiring spiritual greatness, and are
not carried away or fooled by the necessary toil which we
engage in to retain our physical well-being.
As the gemora cited above (Sanhedrin 99b)
continues, every man must toil in something -- whether it be
omeil Torah or omeil melocho. Praised is he who
merits to toil in Torah! The gemora is telling us that
one who does not live with the perspective of romemus
acquired through omeil Torah, will inevitably live
in the world of omeil melocho. As the Maharal
explained, his drive to create must be channeled somehow.
This is the meaning of Rav Yosef's exclamation that if it was
not for the giving of the Torah, and the romemus which
he achieved through the study of Torah, he would have been
the simple "Yosef in the shuk." If not for Rav Yosef's
omeil Torah, he would have been stuck in a world of
In our days, every ben Torah -- every frum Jew -
- is a Rav Yosef. We look around us and see so many Jews who
were not privileged to receive a Torah education. Their lives
are so empty, void of meaning and fulfillment. They live in
the world of omeil melocho, striving for wealth,
honor, and whatever other pleasures their hearts desire.
Television, politics, business, entertainment -- there is no
end to the distractions which take one away from his true
purpose and perfection in life. They have truly fulfilled the
words of the Chovos Halevovos. Without Torah, they are
unable to rise above life's distractions and trivialities.
They live lives completely devoid of romemus.
What separates us from them? Why is our life so full and
theirs so empty? Only because of Torah. "If not for that day,
the day of matan Torah, we would all be living in the
world of omeil melocho, and not omeil Torah.
Shavuos is the day we recognize that when G-d came down to
Har Sinai to give us the Torah, it was in order to give us
this romemus. The giving of the Torah to Klal Yisroel
ensured that we always remain connected to G-d, and never to
lose the true perspective on life.
As we say daily in our tefillos, "Lema'an lo niga
lorik - - in order that our toil not go to waste." This
is truly the greatest gift that G-d can bestow on man. It
means the difference between living a life of true meaning
and fulfillment, and a life of emptiness.
The tremendous joy of Shavuos is a recognition and
appreciation of this tremendous gift which G-d bestowed upon
us, the children of Avrohom, Yitzchok and Yaakov. On Shavuos
we recognize the romemus which Torah brings us by
proclaiming that Torah is our only interest and guide in
life. We express our deep desire to be completely dedicated
As a gesture of this dedication, Jews from all walks of life -
- businessmen, lawyers, bus drivers, teachers -- sit up the
entire night of Shavuos toiling only in omeil Torah.
The entire spectrum of Klal Yisroel makes a unanimous
proclamation that our true essence is Torah, and all other
toil that we involve ourselves with is only a necessary means
to further our spiritual pursuits. This is how we celebrate
Shavuos. We are misromem, and in turn we are zoche
to the romemus of matan Torah.
The romemus that a Jew strives to achieve in
preparation for Kabolas HaTorah is truly a high
spiritual pursuit. It entails deep introspection and a step-
by-step process of cleansing one's self of goals and desires
which are contrary or detrimental to spiritual development.
Such cleansing cannot be achieved overnight. The process of
disconnecting ones self from his daily routine, dealings, and
interests -- of becoming a true ben Torah -- must be
approached step by step, day by day.
The preparation for Shavuos is a 49-day process. There are 49
facets of preoccupation -- distraction -- from the truth.
These are known as the 49 levels of tumah. The days of
Sefirah are a day-by-day climb out of the trenches of the
world of omeil melocho, which can bring one down to
the deepest levels of tumah. During Sefirah, we strengthen
ourselves daily, working on making our Torah keva and
our melocho arai.
Throughout the year we make many investments -- emotional,
intellectual, and material -- in "our world." During the days
of Sefiras HaOmer we proclaim that these are only necessary
means, and not ends. Our essence is purely Torah and nothing
else. The days of Sefirah are days of romemus, when we
take the clarity of emunah which we received on Pesach
and mold and dedicate ourselves to living according to those
principles. Higher and higher we rise, out of the depths of
tumas Mitzrayim. Every day we count, each day one step
closer to the day of complete romemus.