The gematria of middah is 49. This is very logical, as it’s a person’s middot that determines whether he is on the 49th level of tumah or tahara. The fact that the 49 notion falls out on Sefirat HaOmer is very logical based on an idea expressed by Rabbi Biderman, shlita. He says that the middle mitzvah in the Torah is Sefirat HaOmer, a time to work on middot and perfect one’s character. Therefore, a middah—in concordance with 49—should be perfected at this time. It’s true that God did the work in terms of redeeming us from Mitzrayim when we reached the 49 levels of tumah, but that was a Divine intervention, whereas the middah that measures who we are takes place with us taking the initiative and counting.
The fact that a middah measures our status comports with the Midrash (Vayikrah Rabbah 1:15) that says, “Even a dead animal is better than a talmid chacham who lacks da’at.” This is in line with the Mishna in Pirkei Avot (4:12) that says, “Rabbi Shimon says: ‘[There are] three crowns: the crown of Torah, the crown of priesthood and the crown of kingship, and the crown of a good name rises higher than them.’” We are preparing for Matan Torah, yet as far as we get in that realm it is still trumped by good middot.
In relation to the power of good middot, I heard the following story relayed to me by my wife, who heard it from Rav Paysach Krohn at a shiur he gave at Agudat Yisroel Bircat Yaakov of Passaic Park.
A large chareidi family was taking a trip in Eretz Yisrael. They budgeted their expenses in a way that they only had a certain amount to spend. At one point, the son had to go to the bathroom, and they found a nearby restaurant. The father walked into the eating establishment and asked the waitress if it would be OK to use the bathroom and she said it was fine. Upon exiting the bathroom, the owner, who knew nothing of what the waitress said, started to berate them and hurl insults at them, expressing that they fit into the typical chareidi stereotype of using other people for their own needs.
At that moment, the father had to think how to respond. He thought to himself what Rav Avrohom Genechovsky, z”l, would do in such a case. He then said to the owner that his family was in fact eating at the restaurant and his family was coming in.
After some time, the owner came to find out that the waitress gave permission and that the only reason the father brought his family in to eat, though he couldn’t afford it, was to protect the dignity of this waitress. The owner apologized profusely and covered all of the meal expenses. A kiddush Hashem resulted. This is an example of someone exercising exemplary middot that could give him a score of 49 immediately.
This story reminded me of another story of Rav Avrohom Genechovsky, z”l, that shows how sometimes split-second decisions change the whole fate of a person. Rav Avrohom z”l’s parents emigrated to Eretz Yisrael. The way they became olim was quite extraordinary. While visiting Eretz Yisrael one time, it was the second day of Yom Tov. Rav Avrohom z”l’s mother, Gita Genechovsky, a”h, suddenly took out her purse and bought something. Her husband was astonished as it was still Yom Tov. Gita, a”h, proclaimed that they are now residents of Eretz Yisrael and therefore the second day is no longer Yom Tov. Instant decisions can bring transformative results, just as that father made an instant decision to create a major kiddush Hashem.
There was a rav who once said that if you’re mevater, you will always win. That seems like a good piece of advice during this time period, during Sefirah; that is the center mitzvah of the Torah and everything else dovetails off of it.
Steven Genack is the founder and editor of Aish Haolam.