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Vol. 10 No. 31
No End in Itself
(The Mitzvah of Sefiras Ha'Omer)
The Ba'al ha'Ma'or gives two reasons for not reciting the B'rachah of 'Shehechiyanu' on the Mitzvah of Sefiras ha'Omer, even though it comes only once a year. Firstly, he explains, Sefiras ha'Omer nowadays is only a 'Zeicher le'Mikdash', as the Gemara in Menachos (66a) states, to explain why Ameimar would count only the days, not bothering to count the weeks. And secondly, because as opposed, say, to the Mitzvah of Lulav, which comes to express our Simchas ha'Chag, and Shofar, which reminds G-d of K'lal Yisrael's needs, counting the Omer has no intrinsic call for rejoicing. And the essence of 'Shehechiyanu' is Simchah. Consequently, where the Mitzvah does not reflect Simchah, there is no 'Shehechiyanu'.
The B'nei Yisaschar quoting the Kedushas Levi, gives a different answer (though upon reflection, it is really no more than an elaboration of the previous one). He compares the counting of the Omer to the counting of a Zavah (as does the Or ha'Chayim, though with different connotations - see final section of article). A Zavah too, is obligated to count seven days. She counts seven clean days, not for any benefit that she derives from the seven days themselves, but because of what awaits her on the eighth day. It is like someone who is counting the days towards some exciting event which he eagerly anticipates. The intervening days themselves are no more than a vehicle to arrive at the long-awaited day. They themselves have no intrinsic importance.
And so it is with the Omer. When we recite 'Shehechiyanu' on Yom-tov, on Chanukah and on Purim, it is because the day itself is a source of Simchah. Not so the counting of the Omer, which has no intrinsic significance, because its importance is based entirely on the fiftieth day, Shevu'os, which is the culmination and also the purpose of the counting.
And in the same way, the B'nei Yisaschar explains the words 'u'ben shemonas yomim', which the Torah uses in lech-Lecha in connection with the Mitzvah of B'ris-Milah (particularly the B'ris Milah of Yitzchak, who would be the first person to be circumcised on the eighth day). The Pasuk might well have written "u'ben shemonah yomim'', which would have meant 'on the eighth day'. "Shemonas", as Rashi explains elsewhere, means 'a group of eight days'. In other words, from the moment Yitzchak was born, Avraham waited eagerly for the eighth day, when he would be able to perform this Mitzvah for the first time. He was counting the days until the eighth and final day arrived, as it were.
We too, are counting towards the fiftieth day - Shevu'os, eagerly awaiting its arrival. And when it does, that is when we will recite 'Shehechiyanu'.
With this understanding of Sefiras ha'Omer, says the B'nei Yisaschar, it becomes clear why the Torah writes the seemingly strange expression ''sheva Shabbasos temimos tiheyenu", on the one hand, and why it writes "chamishim yom", when we only count forty-nine.
What does "Temimos" mean, and how can we be instrumental in turning these weeks into seven complete (or perfect) weeks? Since when is time in our hands to create? Surely, the seven weeks will pass whether we count them or not, he asks?
The answer is that by counting the weeks in eager anticipation of the fiftieth day, we connect them with the fiftieth day, which follows in the Pasuk. And it also explains why the Torah refers to fifty days, even though we only count forty-nine. The object of the counting is to join the days that lead up to Yom Matan Torah on to the actual day itself, so that they form part of the event of Matan Torah. The fiftieth day requires no counting. It does however, gain a 'Shehechiyanu'.
We cited earlier the Or ha'Chayim, who compares the Sefiras ha'Omer to the counting of a Zavah. Yisrael, he says, had just left tum'as Mitzrayim, in which case, they needed to count seven clean weeks before they would be ready to receive the Torah, just like a Zavah needs to count seven clean days, before she can become Tahor. The reason that they required weeks rather than days was a. because of the high degree of Tum'ah, and b. because as opposed to a Zavah, who is only an individual, they were a community.
In any event, once they had counted the seven weeks of Taharah, they would be ready to enter the Chupah (the mountain that G-d held over their heads) like a bride.
That is why the Torah writes 'And you shall count for yourselves', he continues - for your benefit, to render you Tahor and fit to enter the Chupah with Hashem, and to receive the Torah.
And, he adds, it also explains why the Torah ordered them to begin counting only the day after Yom-Tov (and not on Yom-tov itself). This is because like the counting of a Zavah, the seven weeks had to be complete (indeed, the Torah specifically refers to the seven weeks as 'Temimos'). Consequently, they could not begin counting on the fifteenth of Nisan, because, since the Exodus only took place in the middle of the day, after they had spent the morning in Egypt, this would have rendered the counting incomplete. See also Seifer ha'Chinuch, who gives a different answer to this Kashya.
(Adapted from the Ma'ayanah shel Torah)
It Depends Who Dies First
"He shall not render himself tamei . . . only for his wife . . . for his mother and for his father" (21:1-2)
The Ibn Ezra ascribes the Torah placing the Kohen's mother before his father here, to the fact that a man generally lives longer than a woman, in which case a Kohen will probably lose his mother before he loses his father.
Everybody asks on the Ibn Ezra however, from the fact that in Pasuk 11, in connection with the Kohen Gadol, the Torah, inverting the words, writes "he shall not render himself Tamei for his father and his mother" reversing the order? (In fact, the Ibn Ezra's principle is also questionable in today's day and age).
To answer this kashya, Rebbi Ya'akov Gezundheit of Warsaw points out that the latter Pasuk is speaking about a Kohen Gadol, who generally succeeds his father when he dies. Consequently, he explains, in his case, his father will always die first (because, even if his mother died earlier, he was not a Kohen Gadol at that time).
And this also explains why the Mishnah in Makos talks about the mothers of the Kohen Gadol distributing food and clothes to the residents of the Arei Miklat. Why not the fathers, he asks? And he answers that in the vast majority of cases, a Kohen Gadol no longer had a father, as we just explained. (See also Rabeinu Bachye, who answers the Kashya differently)
K'ri'as Sh'ma and Eating Terumah
"And when the sun sets he will be Tahor, after that he may eat Terumah" (22:7).
The first Mishnah in B'rachos teaches us that a person is permitted to read the Sh'ma from the moment the Kohanim enter to eat their Terumah.
The Eglei Tal quoting his father, explains the connection between these two seemingly disconnected Mitzvos in the following way.
Remember that even after having been to Mikvah, a Kohen is forbidden to eat Terumah. Yet from nightfall and onwards, the prohibition falls away.
This is a clear indication that after nightfall, a new era begins, which to a certain degree, has no connection with the old one.
By the same token, it now becomes necessary to accept 'Ol Malchus Shamayim' (the yoke of the Kingdom of Heaven) once again, since one's previous acceptance belongs to a different era.
Getting the motive Right
"And I will be sanctified in the midst of the B'nei Yisrael" (22:32).
'Give up your life and sanctify My Name', Rashi explains. 'When a person hands himself over, it must be in order to die, and anyone who hands himself over with the intention of being saved, will not experience a miracle', he says.
Why does Rashi need to conclude in this way? Why does he not just say that self-sacrifice is meant literally?
The answer, says the S'fas Emes, is that if not for Rashi's principle, we might have thought that on the contrary, it is a Mitzvah to pray for a Miracle. How come? Seeing as it is a Mitzvah to sanctify G-d's Name, and every miracle is, in effect, a sanctification of His Name, it is therefore admirable to hand oneself to the gentile, with a prayer on one's lips that Hashem perform a miracle and sanctify His Name in the process. That is why Rashi found it necessary to add that this is not the case, because the essence of Kidush Hashem is not just to sanctify G-d's Name, but to sanctify it by dying in His honour.
Earning One's Blessings
"And you shall reap its harvest, and you shall bring the Omer, the first of your harvest" (23:10).
The Gemara in B'rachos teaches us that before a person recites a B'rachah,. the food that he eats is not his, and it is only when he has recited the appropriate B'rachah, that he acquires whatever it is that he is eating.
Likewise here, before the Mitzvah of the Omer sacrifice has been performed, the Torah refers to "harvesting its harvest (the harvest of the land), and it is only after one has brought the Omer to the Kohen, that the harvest becomes your harvest".
Who Needs the Torah . . . !
"And you shall fix on this very day . . . And when you harvest the crops of your land" (23:21/22).
When we celebrate the giving of the Torah, we might have thought that this celebration expresses our joy at having been commanded the many Chukim of the Torah, those Mitzvos which we would never have arrived at with our own 'seichel', and which we only merited through the Torah. But as for the other Mitzvos, the Mishpatim and perhaps even the Eidos, Mitzvos which are easy to understand, and which anyone who aspires to holiness would observe anyway, there is no cause for celebration.
Not at all, says the Meshech Chochmah! We need to rejoice and thank Hashem for each and every Mitzvah, even for the command to give Tzedakah, to leave a corner of the field and the grains that fall, for the poor.
Why is that? Well, he says, one needs only to look around and see how pervert a society becomes without Torah. The moment people's own interests are concerned, be they personal or national, they turn into wild beasts, devoid of the smallest spark of mercy or compassion, ready to devour anyone and everyone who stands in their way.
And that is why the Torah concludes "Ani Hashem Elokeichem". It is only because, through Torah, we become one with G-d, that we go in His ways, thereby learning to act mercifully towards the poor and the needy. And for that privilege, we need to be eternally grateful.
Perhaps we may add another reason, based on the Mishnah at the end of Makos. The Tana writes there that Hashem gave us lots of Mitzvos in order to increase our merits. The commentaries explain this to mean that G-d gave us, not only Mitzvos (commands), which we would not have otherwise observed, but also Mitzvos which we would have kept anyway. Why did He do that?
Because with respect to those Mitzvos, without the aspect of Mitzvah, we would only receive reward in the capacity of 'Eino metzuveh, ve'oseh' (one who does something good without being commanded).
Consequently, based on the principle 'that a Mitzvah that one performs when one is commanded, is greater than one that he performs when he is not', Hashem turned many obvious good deeds into Mitzvos, in order to increase our reward, for performing them as 'Metzuveh ve'oseh'.
In that case, each and every Mitzvah leaves us with a debt of gratitude for having given us the Torah, irrespective of whether or not, we would have performed it anyway.
Cooking on Yom Kipur
"And you shall not do any work on this very day . . . because whoever does not afflict himself on this very day, will be cut off from his people" (23:29/30).
On every other Yom-tov, preparing food for one's personal consumption is permitted. But not on Yom Kipur, as is evident from this Pasuk. And the reason for this is because it is not permitted to eat on Yom-Kipur, so for whom would one need to prepare? For children? Not at all, since one may only perform a Melachah of Ochel Nefesh, that is 'suitable for all people', and children can hardly be considered all people.
When Shlomoh Hamelech inaugrated the first Beis-Hamikdash, the Gemara in Mo'ed Katan (9a.) informs us, they rejoiced for fourteen days, the seven days of Sukos, and the seven days that preceded them, including Yom Kipur (which Shlomoh and the Sanhedrin of that time permitted). Rashi in Ein Ya'akov adds that they not only ate on Yom-Kipur, but that they cooked the food on Yom-Kipur, too. The question arises that they could have done all the preparations the day before, so how could Shlomoh have permitted such a flagrant transgression?
The answer however, lies in what we just explained.. The only reason that cooklng is prohibited on Yom Kipur, is because there is nobody to eat the food. There however, where Shlomoh permitted the people to eat, there was no reason to forbid 'Ochel Nefesh', any more than on other Yamim-tovim.
History of the World
(Adapted from the Seder Ha'doros)
The Post-Churban Era (Part VIII)
Rav Ashi dies (though this is only one of a number of opinions as to the date of Rav Ashi's demise), before managing to complete the Talmud (Shas). This will be accomplished by his Talmidim, seventy-three years after his death. Seven Roshei Yeshivah of Pumbedisa died in his lifetime - Rav Papa, Rav Chama, Rav Z'vid, Rav Dimi, Rafram bar Papa, Rav Kahana the second and Rav Acha bar Rava. Others add Mar Zutra and Rav Yeimar to the list.
Mereimar succeeds Rav Ashi as Rosh Yeshivah in Sura (though others cite Rav Huna bar Nasan as Rav Ashi's successor). He, together with Mar bar Rav Ashi and their colleagues, will continue to compile Shas, though they too, do not succeed in completing it.
Rav Gevihah from bei-Kasil becomes Rosh Yeshivah in Pumbedisa.
Mereimar dies. He is succeeded by Rav Idi bar Avin, who becomes Rosh Yeshivah in Sura. His will remain in that post for twenty years.
Rafram the second becomes Rosh Yeshivah in Pumbedisa.
Rav Huna becomes the Resh Galusa (the exilarch), though others claim that the first Rav Huna Resh Galusa died in the time of Rebbi (whereas the second lived many years later).
Rafram the second dies. Rav Rechumi succeeds him.
Rav Dimi bar Aba dies, and Rav Idi bar Avin dies two years later in 4212.
Rav Nachman bar Huna is appointed Rosh Yeshivah in Sura.
Rav Tivyumi (alias Mar bar Rav Ashi) takes up his father's position as Rosh Yeshivah of Masa Mechsayah (alias Sura).
Rav Sima the son of Rava is appointed Rosh Yeshivah in Pumbedisa, a position which he will retain for twenty years.
There is an earthquake in Antuchya, which destroys the king's palace and throne.
Rav Tivyumi dies. Some say that Rav Huna the son of mar Zutra, the Resh ha'Golah is killed at this time. Rabah Tosfa'ah is appointed Rosh Yeshivah after the death of Rav Tivyumi.
Rebbi Avina the son of Rav Huna (otherwise known as Ravina) the second is appointed Rosh Yeshivah. According to some, he dies the same year. Others maintain that he will die only in 4260, after the completion of the Talmud. The death of Ravina heralds the end of the era of the Amora'im.
In this year, the King of Persia murders Ameimar, son of Mar Yenuka son of Mar Zutra (colleague of Rav Ashi), Rav Mesharshaya and Mar Huna bar Rav Ashi (the Resh Galusa). He also forces the youth to convert out of faith and Yisrael suffer terribly at his hands.
Rabah Tosfa'ah dies.
The Seifer ha'Yuchsin writes that in the lifetime of Rav, there was no Yeshivah in Bavel. The Princes were known as 'Resh Sidra'. In fact, the first (Eretz Yisrael style) Yeshivah was only formed after Rav's death. The Rosh Yeshivah was his star talmid, Rav Huna, who ruled for forty years. He was followed by Rav Chisda (ten years). Rabah bar Nachmeni ruled twenty-two years in Pumbedisa, and Rav Yosef two and a half. Abaye succeeded Rav Yosef as Rosh Yeshivah for fourteen years. He in turn, was succeeded by Rava, who was Rosh Yeshivah of the Yeshivos of Sura and Pumbedisa for fourteen years. Rav Papa ruled for nineteen years and Rav Ashi for sixty. The last two Amora'im were Rav Tivyumi and Rabana Yossi, in whose days the Gemara was completed. After the death of Rabana Yossi, the two Yeshivos remained without a Rosh Yeshivah for some time, until the Rabbanan S'vura'i decided to split them (like in the days of Rav Huna). They therefore appointed two independent Rosh Yeshivos, who ran the Yeshivos and taught Torah to K'lal Yisrael at large. The Talmud however, was closed, and they no longer had the authority to add to it or to detract from it.
Note that there are a number of discrepancies between the Seder Ha'doros and the Seifer ha'Yuchsin.
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