Throughout the Torah we find completion and wholeness taking precedence over quantity. Thus a whole roll takes precedence over a much larger portion of a loaf of bread in the recitation of Hamotzi.
From this we learn that our avodah is measured not by quantity, but by how close it comes to perfection. Since Hashem is the ultimate perfection, our goal must be to also achieve the greatest measure of perfection possible for a human being, for we are exhorted to emulate Him and “to be complete with Hashem.”
Chazal tell us (Brachot 5b) that whether one does more or less is insignificant. What one actually accomplishes in this world is in the hands of Hashem. The main consideration is that one direct and concentrate his heart toward heaven. What we can control is the intensity of our desire and purity of our effort in the quest for perfection.
R’ Yitzchak said: “The Torah teaches us that when a person does a mitzvah, he should do so with a complete and happy heart. Had Reuven known that the Torah would record that he attempted to save Yosef from his brothers, he would have put him on his shoulders and run with him home. If Aharon had known that the Torah would record that he would be happy when he met Moshe Rabbeinu after (Moshe) was chosen to be the redeemer, he would have come with drums and cymbals. If Boaz had known that the megillah would record that he gave Ruth some parched grain to eat, he would have given her a royal banquet.” (Yalkut Shimoni Ruth 604)
In each instance cited by the Midrash, there was doubt as to what the proper conduct really was. Reuven was unsure if saving Yosef was proper after the brothers judged him a threat to their existence. If Moshe questioned his own suitability to be the redeemer, Aharon likewise had the right to have reservations concerning his brother’s appointment. And similarly, Boaz had grounds for doubts about the convert Ruth, not knowing her sincerity and character.
Hence, they acted without the complete and happy heart that could have made their mitzvot perfect, and this blemish was reflected in the outcome of their actions. Yosef was sold into slavery; the mission to Pharoah met with initial failure; and David’s lineage was impugned.
After Bnei Yisrael were freed from subjugation in Egypt to serve Hashem, the first step in that service was to strive for perfection. That striving took the form of counting seven complete weeks, 49 complete days, until the giving of the Torah on the 50th day.
Fifty represents perfection. Our task is to count 49. We are not capable of creating perfection; only Hashem can make something perfect. All we can do is strive toward it. But by counting for 49 days, it is as if we counted the 50th also, for the 50th level is the automatic result of our efforts in securing the first 49.
This is the significance of Lag B’Omer as explained by the Maharsha (Moed Katan 28a). The majority of the Omer count is reached when two-thirds of the time passes. That occurs on the 33rd day. Once most of the period has passed successfully, one can be confident he will be successful in likewise fulfilling the remainder. Lag B’Omer is a day to rejoice in one’s successful quest for perfection. The traditional bonfires symbolize the pure, intense fire of the heart that is the basis of our quest for perfection.
“When are the days of the Omer perfect and complete? When we fulfill God’s will” (Vayikra Rabbah 28:3). It is the intensity of our quest for perfection in performing God’s will that infuses our counting of the Omer with added meaning and effectiveness.
May we strive for perfection in all that we do, so that our efforts will be crowned by success by Hashem, Who will bring us to the ultimate perfection, “granting His nation strength and blessing it with peace.”
Rabbi Zev Leff is the rabbi of Moshav Matityahu, and a renowned author, lecturer and educator. He is a member of the Mizrachi Speakers Bureau ( www.mizrachi.org/speakers ).