In Pursuit of Perfection
Running & Returning during the omer
Excerpted from the book Likutei Even by Reb Ephraim ben Naftali
From the first day of the Omer, a steady process of spiritual ascent begins that culminates on the fiftieth day with Shavuot, marking the giving of the Torah. Shavuot is the Fiftieth Gate, representing complete union and nullification before God’s Infinite Light—a level of intense longing, called “Desire of Desires.” However, the truth is that it is impossible to attain this level completely during this life.
Within the Omer counting, there is a dynamic called ratzo v’shov—“running and returning,” a concept that pervades Kabbalistic thought, as well as Rebbe Nachman’s teachings in particular. Although we run for forty-nine days towards Shavuot, paradoxically, the light of the Fiftieth Gate can only be attained through the idea of “return”—shov. This is because if you only run, you would soon cease to exist—destroying the possibility of creating a vessel in which to receive the highest light. Therefore, we refrain from counting the fiftieth day, which is Shavuot, since the soul’s all-consuming desire for God must be restrained. Even Moses himself was unable to attain the level of the Fiftieth Gate, since he would have had to nullify his being completely and shed every vestige of corporeality. Thus, after he ascended Mount Sinai, corresponding to the dynamic of “running,” he held himself back, corresponding to the aspect of “return.”
Since God desires our service, we too must remain in the category of “return”—shov, despite the great desire to break through and run forward as we near the Fiftieth Gate. This is the only way to experience God’s Infinite Light on Shavuot and experience His unity. Then it is possible to realize that since everything that happens in our lives comes directly from God, everything is truly good. This knowledge brings our complete acceptance of God’s sovereignty over all Creation—the essence of perfection.
Adapted from the book Likutei Even (Haskamat HaBoker, pp. 9-11), by Reb Ephraim ben Naftali (1800-1882). The Hebrew sefer, Likutei Even, is available for purchase here.