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Parshas Emor - Vol. 5,
Compiled by Oizer Alport
Lo yikrechu karcha b’rosham u’pe’as z’kanam lo y’galeichu u’viv’saram lo yisretu sarates (21:5)
The Torah prohibits various extreme forms of mourning the death of loved ones. As the laws of nature require every living thing to eventually die, why is human nature to mourn the death of a loved one, sad as it may be, with such intensity when we mentally recognize that it is inevitable?
The Ramban, in his work Toras HaAdam on the laws and customs of death and mourning, offers a fascinating explanation for this phenomenon. When Hashem originally created the first man, Adam, He intended him to be immortal and created him with a nature reflecting this reality. When Adam sinned by eating from the forbidden fruit, he brought death to mankind and to the entire world.
Nevertheless, this new development, although it would completely change the nature of our life on earth until the Messianic era, had no effect on man’s internal makeup, which was designed to reflect the reality that man was intended to live forever. Therefore, although our minds recognize that people ultimately must die and we see and hear about death on a daily basis, our internal makeup remains as it was originally designed, one which expects our loved ones to live forever as they were originally intended to do, and which is therefore plunged into intense mourning when confronted with the reality that this is no longer the case.
U’sfartem lachem mimacharas HaShabbos miyom haviachem es omer hatenufah sheva Shabbasos temimos tih’yenah (23:15)
Our verse contains the mitzvah known as Sefiras HaOmer – counting the Omer. During each successive day of this 7-week period, we are commanded to count the passing days and weeks. There is one unique law about this mitzvah which is difficult to understand. If somebody accidentally forgets to count even one of the days during this period, he may no longer continue counting on successive days with a blessing. Because the entire count is considered to be one big mitzvah, somebody who misses even one day can no longer fulfill the mitzvah that year.
This concept seems to be unparalleled among other mitzvos. If somebody accidentally ate chometz on Pesach, forgot to light a menorah on one night of Chanuka, or ate outside of the Sukkah on Sukkos, nobody would suggest that he is now exempt from continuing to observe the mitzvah during the duration of the holiday. Why is counting the Omer unique in this regard?
The Medrash teaches that Rebbi Akiva grew up as an uneducated and ignorant shepherd. That all changed when at the age of 40, he noticed a rock with a hole which had been born through it by dripping water. He reasoned that if the water could penetrate the hard rock, certainly the Torah (which is also compared to water) could penetrate the soft flesh of his heart. He was motivated to begin learning, starting from scratch with the alphabet until he eventually became the greatest scholar of his generation. Although this story is inspiring, what deeper message did Rebbi Akiva find in the dripping water which gave him confidence in his new undertaking?
Rav Chaim Shmuelevitz explains that when a person wants to boil water, he puts a pot on the stove for one minute until it begins to boil. What would happen if he instead placed it on the stove for 30 seconds, removed it from the flame for five minutes, and then returned it for another 30 seconds? Even though the water would have been on the fire for a full minute, it wouldn’t boil. The obvious explanation is that it isn’t the amount of time that the water is on the flame which is crucial, but the continuity. It is the accumulated power of the heat during 60 uninterrupted seconds which allows the water to boil.
Similarly, Rebbi Akiva was skeptical about his potential for beginning to study Torah at his age. If he had to start from the beginning and could cover only a little ground daily, how much could he really accomplish? However, when he saw the hole in the rock created by the water, he recognized his error.
Although each individual drop of water makes no distinguishable impression on the rock, the cumulative effect of their continuous dripping is indeed great. Understanding the power latent in consistency, Rebbi Akiva set off to study daily until he became the leader of the generation.
The 7-week period of the Omer is one in which we prepare to celebrate the giving of the Torah at Mount Sinai on Shavuos. As a result, Rav Eliezer Fireman suggests that the Torah specifically requires us to count the Omer without missing a day to symbolically teach us the importance of stability in our Torah study. Rebbi Akiva teaches us that the key isn’t the age at which we start, but rather the consistency and permanence of our studies. If we persevere, the “hole” will be greater than the sum of the parts.
Dabeir el B’nei Yisroel leimor bachodesh ha’shevi’i b’echad lachodesh yihyeh lachem Shabbason zichron teruah mikra Kodesh (23:24)
The Gemora in Rosh Hashana (34a) quotes various opinions regarding the sound the Torah intended when it instructed us to blow the shofar on Rosh Hashana. In order to avoid doubt and to perform the mitzvah according to all opinions, we are accustomed to blow three different sounds: shevarim, teruah and shevarim-teruah.
The Shelah HaKadosh writes that although we sound the shofar according to each possible interpretation, there is nevertheless a specific order in which we arrange the sounds. When blowing them all together, we first blow the simple tekiah, then the three shevarim sounds, then the broken teruahs, and finally another unbroken tekiah. This order was specifically chosen to symbolize the concept of teshuvah. Shlomo HaMelech writes in Koheles (7:29), “HaElokim asah es ha’adam yashar v’heimah bikshu cheshbonos rabim” – Hashem made man straight, but people sought out numerous complex calculations.
We begin by sounding an unbroken tekiah to symbolize the simple, straightforward manner in which Hashem initially created us. Unfortunately, as the verse prophesies, we inevitably complicate situations unnecessarily, as represented by the broken sounds of the shevarim. As if that weren’t sufficient, we fail to recognize the error of our ways until we have reached rock bottom, as suggested by the short crying sounds of the teruah. Sometimes, it is only after a person has reached the nadir that he is able to recognize how far he has fallen from his original heights. It is this realization that jolts and inspires him to full and proper repentance, allowing him to return to the straight tekiah, just as he was created.
Answers to the weekly Points to Ponder are now available!
Parsha Points to Ponder (and sources which discuss them):
1) The Torah commands us (21:8) to sanctify Kohanim and to treat them respectfully, giving them precedence in all spiritual matters. If a Kohen and a Yisroel have the same level of obligation to pray as Shaliach Tzibbur, is there a mitzvah to give precedence to the Kohen? (Pri Megadim Orach Chaim 53:14, Shu”t Chelkas Yaakov 2:49)
2) Why is a widow forbidden to marry the Kohen Gadol (21:14) when she is permitted to marry a regular Kohen? (Moshav Z’keinim, Aleinu L’shabeiach)
3) The Torah lists (21:16-24) the blemishes which disqualify a Kohen to serve in the Temple. Is a left-handed Kohen disqualified from serving in the Temple, and if so, does it make a difference if he trains himself to write or perform other activities with his right hand? (Ayeles HaShachar)
4) What should a person do if he crosses the International Date Line during the period of time known as Sefiras HaOmer (23:15-16), either in a manner which causes him to completely “miss” one of the days of the Omer or in a manner which causes him to “repeat” one of the days of the Omer? (Shu”t B’tzeil HaChochmah 5:96-98, Shu”t Mishneh Halachos 10:121, Shu”t Kinyan Torah 5:46, Ta’arich Yisroel, Piskei Teshuvos 489:6)
5) If a person is forced to spend Sukkos either in a community which has the four species (23:40) but no sukkah or in a place which has a sukkah (23:42) but not the four species, which one should he choose? (Mateh Ephraim 625:22, Elef HaMagen 625:22)
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