Parshat Emor: The Meaning in the Process
By Rabbi Chaim Navon, senior faculty of Midreshet Lindenbaum‘s Hadas Program – The Claudia Cohen Torah/Army Program
When God sizes us up, he isn’t merely interested in whether we’ve advanced the great future awaiting our nation. He is also looking at how we handled the smaller challenges we face day-to-day, from one minute to the next.
What do we face? The future, of course; so when we talk about the future, we are “facing forward,” In Biblical times, however, people looked to the past, so when Hashem tells us about the things that happened in the past, he uses the word lefanim – forward. I’d like to propose a third option – facing the present.
In the verses of Parashat Emor that discuss the holidays, the counting of the Omer is discussed as well, though it isn’t truly a holiday: “And from the day on which you bring the sheaf of elevation offering—the day after the Sabbath—you shall count off seven weeks. They must be complete” (Leviticus 23:15). The Torah commands us to observe the unique tradition of counting the forty-nine days that follow the first Passover holiday. We stop counting once we reach the festival of Shavuot.
The first message conveyed by the counting of Omer is well-known, and it’s a crucial one. It describes the transition from the physical freedom we celebrate on the Passover holiday to the spiritual freedom we experience on Shavuot, the day the Torah was given. We would have expected the countdown to the holiday on which the Torah was given to be just like the one broadcast worldwide when a space shuttle is launched. It should be something like “ten, nine, eight… Shavuot!” Right? Actually, the counting of the Omer is in ascending, rather than descending order, and this conveys a resounding message.
The counting of the Omer teaches us about the importance of processes and interim stages. Each week has its intrinsic value, and every day is counted. In today’s goal-oriented world, people are interested only in the bottom line. It’s as if the only thing that matters is the outcome. Whatever the subject at hand, we always try to cut development time – and cut to the chase. Instead of starting a diet, we take weight-loss pills. The counting of the Omer is here to remind us that it isn’t just the outcome that counts. The process counts, too.
According to R. Shimshon Raphael Hirsch’s calculation, based on the timeline that appears in the Talmud, the giving of the Torah didn’t occur on the holiday of Shavuot. Rather, it occurred the next day. He therefore concludes that the holiday doesn’t mark the giving of the Torah, but rather the time when “we prepared ourselves to be worthy of receiving the Torah.” This is also the reason the Torah called this holiday Shavuot, in reference to the counting of the weeks that precede the holiday. This conclusion also bolsters the argument we presented earlier: the preparation process is also noteworthy, and not only the final outcome. This period of time is important because it is a vital prelude to the end result we hope to achieve, and because of the fact that our day-to-day, routine lives and everything that happens to us is meaningful.
“Every generation is equidistant from God”, said German historian Leopold Von Ranke. Even if we don’t accept this premise in its entirety, it carries an important message. The intrinsic value of our lives today isn’t merely due to the fact that we are living on the stepping-stone to redemption – a veritable prelude to the future we hope to see. Our lives have intrinsic value, and the interim stages are meaningful.
There are times in history that may seem like nothing more than intermediate stages bridging between more important events. After World War I, Ferdinand Foch, the commander of the French army, demanded that the border between Germany and France pass through the Rhine. When his demand was rejected, he made a statement that would prove historically accurate: “It isn’t peace – it’s a twenty-year armistice,” as Winston Churchill recalled in his book, The Gathering Storm. In fact, people today tend to view the years between the world wars as an interim period of sorts, which lack any importance of their own. Yet weren’t there people who lived and died during that time? Surely, there were those who committed heinous acts, and others who acted virtuously. Everyone is important, and ultimately, everyone will appear before God.
The same applies to our lives today. In the time to come, the present day may seem like an interim period between more important events. Still, each day has its intrinsic value and everything we do has meaning. Our lives aren’t overshadowed by the great events that will transpire in the future. Redemption is our ultimate goal, but the interim stages are meaningful in their own right. When God sizes us up, he isn’t interested solely in whether we’ve advanced the great future awaiting our nation. He is also looking at how we handled the smaller day-to-day challenges, from one minute to the next. No moment in time is trifling enough to be overlooked by the creator of the universe.