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Parshas Emor - Vol. 10, Issue 29
Compiled by Oizer Alport
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.
Parshas Emor contains the mitzvah known as Sefiras HaOmer - counting the Omer. During each successive day of this 7-week period, which we are currently in the middle of, we are commanded to count the passing days and weeks. This period begins on the second day of Pesach (16 Nissan), when the Korban Omer that permitted the new grain harvest to be eaten was offered, and concludes on Shavuos. The Be'er Yosef raises several difficulties with this concept. First, Rashi writes (23:10) that Omer is simply the name of a quantity measuring one-tenth of an Eipha. What is the significance of this measurement, and why is the entire offering named after it? Similarly, when counting the days and weeks during this period, why do we invoke the Omer (e.g. Hayom yom echad ba'Omer - today is 1 day of the Omer)? Finally, why is this offering specifically brought on 16 Nissan, a date that seems to have no inherent significance?
The Be'er Yosef answers all of these questions based on the teaching of the Medrash (Vayikra Rabbah 28:3) that the Korban Omer is associated with the Manna that the Jewish people ate during their 40-year sojourn in the wilderness, regarding which Hashem commanded them (Shemos 16:16) to collect and eat one Omer per person each day. When the Jews received their daily sustenance directly from Hashem in an openly miraculous manner, it was clear and self-evident that He was the one providing for them. However, when they entered the land of Israel and the Manna no longer fell for them, they had no choice but to being working to sustain themselves. When a person is eating the fruits of his labors, there is a dangerous tendency to take credit for one's success and accomplishments, and it therefore became necessary at that time to offer the Korban Omer as an annual reminder that as hard as they worked, the true Source of their parnassah was the same Source that provided the daily Omer of Manna for them in the wilderness. Why is this reminder specifically given on this date?
The Gemora in Kiddushin (38a) teaches that the Manna ceased falling during the 40th year in the wilderness when Moshe died on 7 Adar, but the people were able to continue eating the Manna they gathered until 16 Nissan, at which point for the first time since the Exodus they began working to provide for their needs. It is therefore specifically appropriate to bring the Korban Omer, the purpose of which is to reminder us of the Manna and to prevent us from falling prey to the natural temptation to take credit for our material success, each year on the day that the Jewish people began laboring to provide for their physical needs.
However, this reminder alone is insufficient, as the pull to attribute our accomplishments to our efforts and talents is too great. Therefore, we follow it up by invoking the Omer during our daily counting over the ensuing seven weeks. The Maharal teaches that the number seven is associated with teva (nature), so it is appropriate to count for seven weeks, each consisting of seven days, in order to fully ingrain within ourselves that as natural as it may seem, our income and financial success ultimately comes from Hashem, a message that we should focus on each day when we count the Omer.
Parshas Emor concludes with a tragic episode in which somebody cursed and blasphemed Hashem. How did this incident come about? Rashi explains that the blasphemer was the son of a Jewish woman named Shlomis bas Divri and the Egyptian taskmaster who was slain by Moshe (Shemos 2:12). Because his mother was descended from the tribe of Dan, the blasphemer attempted to encamp amongst the tribe of Dan, but they refused to allow him to do so because his father was not from their tribe. Unable to resolve the conflict, they went to Moshe to rule on the dispute. When Moshe ruled in favor of the tribe of Dan, the man blasphemously uttered his curse.
Although the tribe of Dan was correct in their argument that the blasphemer was not legally entitled to dwell amongst them, the Alter of Kelm questions why they were so adamant in their refusal. The Torah records (Bamidbar 1:39) that the male members of the tribe of Dan between the ages of 20 and 60 numbered more than 60,000, in which case the total number of men and women of all ages in the tribe numbered well over 100,000. If so, why were they so insistent in refusing to allow one additional person to live in their midst, especially in light of the fact that his mother was part of their tribe? The Alter suggests that we may derive from here that one spiritually impure individual has the ability to corrupt and contaminate an entire tribe consisting of more than 100,000 people, and in order to protect themselves from his negative influence, they had no choice but to refuse his request to encamp amongst them.
When the Chazon Ish became Bar Mitzvah, he accepted upon himself a commitment to spend the rest of his life engaged in the pure study of Torah solely for its own sake. Not surprisingly, he grew up to become renowned for his Torah knowledge. More recently, somebody asked Rav Elozar Menachem Shach what a boy becoming Bar Mitzvah in this generation should accept upon himself? Rav Shach replied that he should make two commitments. First, he must pledge not to associate with friends who may serve as a negative influence. Second, he most promise not to idly linger in the streets, but rather to travel directly from his home to his yeshiva and to return home immediately upon the conclusion of his studies. Rav Shach added that somebody who sincerely does so is guaranteed to grow up to become a great Torah scholar
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Parsha Points to Ponder (and sources which discuss them):
1) How was Eliyahu HaNavi, who was a Kohen, permitted to render himself impure in order to resurrect the dead son of the Tzarfatis when the Torah prohibits (21:1) a Kohen to have contact with the dead? (Tosefos, Tosefos HaRosh, and Shita Mekubetzes Bava Metzia 114b; Rabbeinu Bechaye Parshas Pinchas, Shu"t Radvaz 6:2203, Aruch L'Ner and Chochmas Betzalel Niddah 70b, Shu"t Doveiv Meishorim 1:114, K'Motzei Shalal Rav, Ma'adanei Asher 5768 Parshas Pinchas)
2) The Torah commands us (21:8) to sanctify the Kohanim and to treat them respectfully. Does this include allowing Kohanim to skip to the front of a line? (B'shvilei HaParsha)
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)
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