And you shall count for yourselves from the morrow of
the Sabbath, from the day on which you bring the omer
offering, seven complete weeks shall there be; until the morrow
of the seventh week you shall count fifty days...
The teachings of Kabbalah and Chassidism describe seven basic
character traits in the heart of man: chessed (love,
benevolence); gevurah (restraint, awe, fear); tiferet
(harmony, synthesis); netzach (competitiveness); hod
(devotion); yesod (communicativity) and malchut
(regality, receptiveness). Each of these traits includes nuances
of all seven, making a total of forty-nine aspects of human
This is the deeper significance of the counting of
the omer, the mitzvah to count forty-nine days
from Passover to Shavuot. As the above-quoted verse specifies,
the mitzvah is to count both the days and the weeks. (Thus,
on the seventh day we say, Today is seven days, which
are one week, to the omer; on the eighth day
we say, Today is eight days, which are one week and
one day, to the omer; and so on). For the count
corresponds to the forty-nine elements of the heart, which
consist of seven weeks each comprised of seven
The counting of the omer is our annual re-experience
of our ancestors forty-nine-day count from their Exodus
from Egypt to the revelation at Mount Sinai. Four generations
of subjection to the most depraved society on earth had caused
them to sink into the forty-nine gates of profanity,
contaminating every trait and sub-trait in their character.
Following their liberation from Egypt, they embarked on a
process of purification, in order that they be worthy to receive
the Torah from G-d at Sinai. Each day, they grappled with
another corner of their heart, cleansing it and refining it;
each week, they completed the perfection of another of the
seven basic components of their character. Forty-nine days
after the Exodus, they presented their perfected selves to
G-d, who chose them as His kingdom of priests and holy
nation, and communicated to them their charter as His
Each year, we repeat the process. On Passover, we are granted
the potential to liberate ourselves from the profanities in
which we have become enmeshed as a result of our servitude
to material life. But this is only an arousal from Above,
a flash of freedom which must now be internalized through
painstaking self-refinement. We count the days and the weeks
to Shavuot, focusing on our corresponding minor traits and
basic characteristics in the quest for a perfected self.
Counting in the Night
When the Beit HaMikdash (Holy Temple) stood in Jerusalem,
an offering of a measure (omer) of barley, brought on the second day of Passover,
marked the commencement of the seven-week count. Barley serves
mainly as animal feed; the omer offering thus represented
a state of man in which his animal soul (his physical
drives and desires) requires refinement and rectification.
On the fiftieth dayShavuotan offering of two loaves
made of wheat was brought, signifying that we have graduated
to human foodthat we have attained the true potential
of man as a creature who transcends the merely animal.
Today, we lack the opportunity to bring the omer offering
on Passover and the two loaves on Shavuot. This,
because we are in a state of galut (exile),
deprived of the Beit HaMikdash and the divine presence
it introduced into our lives. In galut, the mitzvot
we perform are but faint echoes of those performed in the
Daily we pray for the restoration of a relationship with G-d
uninhibited by the distortions of the spiritual darkness we
If we cannot offer the omer or the two loaves,
at least we can count the days. But even the mitzvah of counting
the omer has been diminished by the galut. According
to most halachic authorities,
the count has true significance only when it follows the offering
of the omer; thus, our counting today is not a full-fledged
biblical commandment (mitzvah doraita), but a
rabbinical ordinance that merely commemorates the mitzvah
fulfilled in the times of the Beit HaMikdash.
Maimonides, however, is of the opinion that even today, counting
the omer is a biblical precept. A third opinion is an interesting combination of the first two:
according to Rabbeinu Yerucham,
it is a biblical mitzvah to count the days also when the Beit
HaMikdash is not extant, but the mitzvah to count the
weeks applies only when the omer is offered, and is
thus today only a rabbinical commandment.
What does this mean in terms of our internal counting
of the omer? That while we are able today to
refine specific elements of our characterperhaps even
all forty-nine of themwe lack the capacity to piece
these together into a perfect self.
The quest for perfection proceeds at all times and
under all conditions, even in the darkest hours of galut.
Advances are made in this quest, pinpoints of perfection achieved
within an imperfect self and world. But actual perfectionincluding
the actual perfection of a complete portion of the soulcan
only be attained when the divine home is restored in our midst.
Today, we might hold all the pieces of the puzzle in our hands,
yet the complete picture eludes us. Only upon our emergence
from galut will the forty-nine days of our soul amount
to seven complete weeks.
Based on an address by the Rebbe, Lag BOmer 5711
(May 24, 1951)
Adapted from the teachings of the Rebbe by Yanki Tauber
. An omer is the equivalent of 43.2 eggs.
. See Sifri on Deuteronomy 11:18.
. See Talmud, Menachot 66a; Tosafot, ibid.; Shulchan
Aruch HaRav, Orach Chaim 489:2, 17; et al.
. Mishneh Torah, Laws of Regular and Additional
. Toledot Adam VeChavvah, Sefer Adam,
path 5, section 4.
. Torat MenachemHitvaaduyot 5711, vol. II,