“‘Count off fifty days up to the day after the seventh Sabbath, and then present an offering of new grain to the LORD.’” — Leviticus 23:16
I once heard a story about a man who took his aircraft out for a ride. In his plane was a cable that ran from the control stick all the way to the tail of the airplane which controlled the direction of the plane. On that particular day, the man heard a strange noise. To his horror, he discovered that the source of the noise was from a rat that was steadily eating away at the cable.
The man quickly realized that if the rat continued to chew through the cord, the plane would surely crash. The man thought quickly and turned the plane into a sharp climb. He knew the rat could not live at the higher altitude because of the lack of oxygen. As he climbed higher in the sky, the rat died and the man was saved from certain death.
So what is the lesson for us from this story? Just as the rat on the airplane could not live at such a high altitude, so, too, our bad habits and sinful tendencies lose their life force as we climb higher toward God. During this time of counting the days between Passover and Shavuot, we have an opportunity to prepare ourselves to make that ascent.
Beginning on the second night of Passover we are commanded to count 49 days until the 50th day on which we commemorate the day that God gave the Torah to humanity. Interestingly, when we count the days, we count up to the event and not down as people generally do when anticipating an exciting event. Moreover, we might ask what the point of this counting is altogether. Why couldn’t God simply take the children of Israel straight from Egypt to Sinai? What was the point of the 49-day hiatus?
The Jewish sages explain that there are 50 levels of impurity. When the Israelites descended down to Egypt, they descended in more than just the physical sense; it was a spiritual descent as well. The longer they were in Egypt, the lower they sunk. At the time of the Exodus, the Israelites had sunk so low – all the way down to the 49th level. At 50, they would have been irredeemable, so God stepped in and took His children out of Egypt.
However, at that point, the Israelites were still on a low spiritual level, not at all prepared to receive the Torah. They began a journey of 49 steps up from where they had sunk. Every day, starting from day one, they took one step up until day 50. On that day, they were ready to receive God’s Word.
During this time period, let’s also resolve to take significant steps up toward God. As we climb above the clouds of despair, our faith and trust strengthen. So let’s climb higher – one step at a time.