Joy or Mourning by Rabbi Benny Berlin

Is ‘Sefirat Ha-Omer’ a time of joy or a period of mourning?

Today, when people think about ‘sefira’, thoughts of sefira beards, no music and anticipation for a Lag B’omer hiatus after a long abstention from celebration may come to mind. These minhagei aveilut are codified in the Shulchan Aruch (OC 493) and attributed to the death of Rabbi Akiva’s talmidim who died during this period between Pesach and Shavuot (Yevamot 62b).
However, the Ramban in his commentary views the whole sefira period as one long Chol HaMoed. These weeks are ‘yemei simcha,’ days of great celebration linking two of the shalosh regalim together! According to the Ramban, Sefira is a powerful link between Pesach and Shavuot.
So, what is ‘sefira’, a time of joy or a period of mourning?

I learned a beautiful insight from Rav Boaz Mori.

First, we need to define Pesach and Shavuot, the two moadim which contain the seven weeks. Both holidays embody cherut, freedom.
Pesach commemorates our freedom from Mitzrayim and Shavuot celebrates the spiritual liberation that we achieved at Sinai (Avot 6:2 – “Ein lecha ben chorin ela mishe-osek ba-Torah”- “there is no free individual, except for he who occupies himself with the study of Torah.”).
Sefirat Ha-Omer, therefore, in its essence is a period of cherut which connects our physical and spiritual redemptions.

The tragedy of this time period is when that great potential for cherut is lost. According to the Talmud Yerushalmi and Iggeret Rav Sherira Gaon, Rabbi Akiva’s students were killed in the Bar Kochva revolt. At that time, there was a real possibility to achieve liberty from our Roman oppressors but due to sinat chinam thousands lost their lives and the dream of freedom was no more. However, in our day two new days of celebration have been added to the calendar during the period of cherut; Yom Ha-Atzmaut and Yom Yerushalayim.

Two new days that add to the joy during the Omer. Israel’s Independence Day celebrates Jewish autonomy in our own land and Yom Yerushalayim the liberation of the holy city with the makom ha-Mikdash in our hands. Although the redemption is not yet complete, it is imperative that we thank Hashem for the blessings he has showered upon us, counting each day of cherut with a beracha!

For the last two thousand years, we have been unable to celebrate the days of cherut properly as we have been riddled with tragedy and with much suffering. Today we live in a reality in which we are the masters of our own national destiny, autonomous with freedoms and liberties that our parents and grandparents did not know. We are so fortunate to be born into a reality of a Jewish State with Jerusalem as its capital.