The Torah commands that Israelites count seven full weeks from the day during Passover when they bring the omer wave-offering (Leviticus 23:15). Immediately thereafter, on the fiftieth day, they are to bring an offering from the newly ripened grain. The purpose of the counting, however, is not mentioned in the text. RaShI, ever ready to offer some illuminating comment, is silent on the matter. Even modern commentators are stumped. Jacob Milgrom, for one, in his commentary on Leviticus (p. 278) writes: “I admit that I cannot fathom the purpose of the fifty day counting, and the literature I have consulted is of no help.” Forced to offer any insight, Milgrom meekly suggests that perhaps “there was some incantation recited each day to ward off the demons of the weather.”

 

The Zohar, the foundational text of Jewish mysticism, is hardly the source to which Jews might turn for a bitter explanation. Yet in this case, the Zohar succeeds where others cannot. The Zohar (Leviticus 94a) compares the seven-week period to the period of a woman’s menstruation. Before a woman can resume intimacy with her husband following her period of impurity, she must count seven “clean” days. Analogously, before Israel can become intimate with God, it must count seven “clean” weeks from the time of the exodus and escape from Egyptian impurity to the time of the giving of the Torah. According to the Zohar, Egypt was such a cesspool of impurity that seven weeks of purification were necessary and not merely seven days. And the fiftieth day – the day of the giving of the Torah – is the comparable to marital relations, bringing God and Israel together in the most intimate way.

 

Mystics were not shy in using sexual metaphors to make spiritual statements. This interpretation is a good example. But beyond the way the Zohar expresses itself is the point the Zohar makes. God can is usually imagined as a supreme ruler: distant, powerful, and demanding. However, it may also be the case that God can be conceived as a loving partner: close, affectionate, sensual. Likewise, observing the Torah is not limited to performing religious requirements. It is also comparable to communing with God in the deepest possible way.