The Days of Sefira – a time of spiritual growth

The Days of Sefira – a time of spiritual growth

posted in: Holidays, Iyar, Passover, Shavuot | 0

The Days of Sefira – a time of spiritual growth
Passover – Sefira – Shavuot

ImageIn the Torah (Leviticus 23:15) it says that we have a mitzvah to count the 49 days between Passover and the holiday of Shavuot. Since we are celebrating the receiving of the Torah on Shavuot, it is an expression of our anticipation to count those days. From a mystical point of view we will actually receive the Torah again this year and every year. In other words there is a potential experience of divine inspiration on the day of Shavuot every year. Therefore we count every year the days leading up to that holiday. In fact, getting the Torah is even more monumental than freedom from Egypt. When we got out of Egypt we weren’t that much different than any other nation. The Torah, its values, and religious philosophy forever branded us as a unique group of people with a mission to spread that “light”. It’s a bit ironic that more Jews celebrate Passover when Shavuot has much more power and spiritual ramification.

A mitzvah of growth

While there is a debate over whether or not the mitzvah to count the days is still Biblical considering the fact that the Holy Temple does not exist at the moment or it is a Rabbinic commandment. Nonetheless, it is a holy time period with a potential for spiritual growth.

Indicated by counting each day, it is a time period for slow incremental growth. Each day is an opportunity to make some small contribution to your spiritual health, an opportunity to get one small step closer to oneness with God.

The mystics say we have “encrustations of evil” that can be eliminated at this time. Each is a different challenge for a different subtlety of our personality, our soul. Keep your eye out for a subtle challenge each day from a different area of life.

Seven weeks of seven days

According to the Zohar, the pattern of seven weeks is similar to the seven days of “spiritual cleanliness” that a woman experiences after her period before she and her husband can resume intimacy. A spiritual barrier must be overcome. The Meam Loez writes that since there were seven types of barriers in Egypt we had to wait a week for each barrier, or type of spiritual impurity. Seven times seven.[1]

Pesach is backward

Most of the time Judaism places high importance on cleansing oneself before elevating oneself. As it says in Psalm 34 “Turn from evil and do good”. First we must remove our bad habits before we can properly adopt good habits. If you party all night, your morning prayer service will lack depth and importance. The Cohen in Temple times would first wash before doing any service in the Temple. Yet on Passover it seems to be the opposite. The first two of the fifteen words of the Passover seder are Kadesh. Urchatz. (Sanctify. Wash)[2] This indicates that on Passover the order is different. We can elevate to sanctity even before we “wash” away our transgressions. That’s the symbol of Pesach, that even though we weren’t worthy of coming out of Egypt, we were down to the 49th level of spiritual impurity, God took us out anyway. Now after Pesach we begin doing the work of being “worthy” for the influx of wisdom on Shavuot.

It’s a pleasure

Some of us avoid spiritual growth because it is uncomfortable to introspect and seems like work, a four-letter word. I went to the gym at the JCC recently and saw so many people paying to work out! Huffing and shvitzing to lose weight or keep healthy. They don’t mind the work because they’re focused on the benefits. During Sefira the work is not only free, but you actually get paid to do it. You gain from the spiritual growth by being a better person, receiving a reward in the next world, and being worthy of more divine inspiration on Shavuot. When you think about it, that’s a pretty awesome payback for a little bit of inner effort. Minimal effort = infinite benefits.

So take pleasure and joy in any effort you put in at this time.

Remember your fellow man

Our sages tell us that out of all the work that we could focus on during this time period to become worthy of divine inspiration, one area of spiritual growth stands out in primary importance – treating your fellow man with respect.[3]

If you’re not sure what to work on during this time period, take the time to review “Love your fellow man.” Think about how you could give your fellow human beings a little bit more kindness, patience, and respect. Think about how you could save someone a little bit of embarrassment. Figure out what might be troubling your friend or family member.

And then when it comes time for Shavuot, get ready for a flood of insight.


[1] The 49 days also follow a pattern with the seven lower Sefirot. This list can be found in the Artscroll Prayerbook after the Evening Service.

[2] The Slonimer Rebbe in Yesod Veshoresh Haavodah says that all fifteen words are laden with mystical secrets.

[3] Rav Aharon Kotler points out that the students of R’ Akiva died as a consequence of not fulfilling the 48 things during Sefira because that’s the obvious time to work on the 48 things outlined in Pirkey Avot 6:6

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