This issue is sponsored l'iluy Nishmas
Vol. 24 No. 28
Gavriel ben Yitzchak z"l
by his children
Although the counting of the Omer was initially a Torah-ordained mitzvah, nowadays, in the absence of the Beis-Ha'Mikdash, it is presumed by most poskim, to be only mi'de'Rabbonon. This is because the Torah links the counting of the Omer to the bringing of the Korban Omer, the barley sacrifice cut on the second night of Pesach - thus coinciding with the counting of the Omer - and brought the following morning. Hence the minhag to pray, after each day's counting, for the rebuilding of the Beis Ha'mikdosh and the reinstatement of the Avodah in the Beis-Ha'mikdosh, is an indirect plea to G-d to revert to the old system, whereby the counting of the Omer, together with the bringing of the Omer, will once again become a Torah-law, instead of a Rabbinical one.
The connection between the bringing of the Omer and the counting might well appear to be no more than a coincidental one, based on the fact that it is called "Sefiras ho'Omer". To better understand the real connection, we need to take a closer look at the mitzvah of the Korban Omer and that in turn, can be enhanced if we compare it to the mitzvah of the "Shtei ha'lechem" brought on Shevu'os. In fact, the very contents of the two Korbonos will help to reveal, on the one hand, the marked difference between them and on the other, their close relationship.
The Omer consisted of plain barley-flour, whereas the Sh'tei ha'Lechem comprised two baked wheat-loaves. The former thus resembled animal food, symbolising the animal-state which characterized the Jews after they left Egypt - before the giving of the Torah, whereas the latter resembled human food, portraying them in their new status of the ideal human-being, a status they attained after they had received the Torah. Torah, and Torah alone, has the power to transform that human animal into the sort of perfect human-being that G-d had in mind when He created the world.
The transformation from animal into man is an immense one and it requires timely and extensive preparation. Above all, it is vital to the receiving of the Torah, since to give the Torah to animals can be likened to placing "a golden ring into the nose of a pig!" How could G-d possibly hand over such a holy and beautiful Torah to those who will only defile it?
Therefore, the Jewish people were given a seven-week transition period in which to elevate themselves from animal to man. During this time, they counted not only days, but also levels of purity and character-development. Consequently, by the 49th day (from Pesach to Shevu'os) they had risen from supreme animals on Pesach to super human-beings on Shevu'os. This idea is comparable to the Chanukah lights, where we kindle one additional light each night to conform with the opinion of Beis-Hillel, because in "Holy matters, we always increase rather than decrease". Sanctity comes through elevation - gradual elevation and gradual improvement. It is by adding a little each day that one ultimately reaches the greatest heights. The 8th day of Chanukah denotes the super-natural, for the powers of nature are embodied in the number 7, those of the super-natural in 8.
And it is the same with the numbers 49 (7 x 7) and 50. It is through working on oneself for 49 days, rising level by level, day by day, that one actually transforms oneself into a perfect human being by the 50th day, Shevu'os, when one is ready to accept the laws and ways of the Torah in totality and to adopt a supernatural life-style. On Shevu'os, we changed from being sophisticated animals, governed by natural instincts and desires, to become supernatural human-beings with full control over those very same instincts and desires.
It is no mere coincidence that the counting of the Omer and the bringing of the Omer coincide, since, between them, they symbolise man's initial status of sophisticated animal (the Omer) and the beginning of his ascent towards the level of super human-being (the counting), and the ultimate achievement which he finally realises on Shevu'os, after 49 days of counting and self-development.
The word "sefirah" means counting, but it also means "to shine", as "Sapphire". That is symbolised by the two wheat-loaves brought on Shevu'os, when the "light of G-d" within man (his Neshomoh) was switched on, and the transformation from animal to man was complete.
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Links - Emor and Kedoshim
The Parshah of Kedoshim deals with the mitzvos asei that cause Yisrael to be holy and the mitzvos lo sa'asei that defile them and detract from their sanctity. The Parshah of Emor does much the same thing with regard to the Kohanim. Since they were chosen to serve in the Beis-Ha'mikdash, they are expected to be on a higher plane of holiness, to which end they were given additional mitzvos - which, after all, are the source of Kedushah, to which the text of birchos ha'mitzvos attests. And, like Yisrael, they were also commanded special negative commands, regarding matters which will detract from their sanctity, should they transgress them.
The latter half of Kedoshim lists those mitzvos lo sa'asei that defile Yisrael and strip them of their sanctity, and the Parshah concludes with the prohibition of Ov and Yi'doni, two kinds of witchcraft which carry the death-penalty.
Emor begins with the warning that a Kohen should not render himself tomei for a dead person.
From the difference between these two la'avin we can perceive the different levels of kedushah between a Yisrael and a Kohen. For a Yisroel to lose his Kedushah it requires chayvei koreis (the Parshah of arayos which precedes the la'av of Ov and Yid'oni) and chayvei miysos beis-din (Ov and Yid'oni), whereas the Kedushah of a Kohen becomes defiled by a plain la'av - just touching or even being under the same roof as a dead man. Clearly the kedushah of a Kohen is far more refined than that of a Yisrael.
That, in a nutshell, is probably what the Ibn Ezra means when he writes "After warning the whole of Yisrael, Kohanim included, to be holy, the Torah sets about warning the Kohanim to be careful of additional matters since they are servants of G-d.
The Ba'al Ha'turim links the two Parshiyos like this: when Yisrael need to know the future, they should not turn to witches and sorcerers, but to the Kohanim, i.e. the Kohen Godol, who wears the Choshen Mishpot, which contains the Urim ve'Tumim, a means of telling the future which the Torah permits. In that way, regarding matters of national importance (security etc.), they have access to the future using a pure source, rather than the impure sources that the Torah loathes.
He also quotes R. Levi, who perceives a reference to King Sha'ul, who asked the witch of Ov for a prediction about the forthcoming war, when he should have asked the Urim ve'Tumim.
This Medrash evidently disagrees with the Chazal which explains that King Sha'ul did consult the Urim ve'Tumim.The Urim ve'Tumim failed to respond however, because King Sha'ul had killed the 80 inhabitants of Nov, the city of Kohanim. And that is precisely the way the Medrash Tanchumah explains the connection between the two Parshiyos. This is what he writes:-
R. Yehoshua from Sichnin quoted R. Yehoshua ben Levi: Hakodosh Boruch Hu showed Moshe the various generations together with their leaders. He showed him Sha'ul Ha'melech and his sons falling before the sword, at which Moshe exclaimed: "Ribono shel Olom, should the first King of Yisroel die by the sword?"
Hakodosh Boruch Hu replied, "Say to the Kohanim, the sons of Aharon" - they are the ones who were killed by Sha'ul, and they are the ones who prosecuted Sha'ul and caused his downfall (as predicted by the Ba'alas Ov, when the Urim ve'Tumim failed to reply because King Sha'ul had killed the city of Kohanim, i.e. the failure of the Urim ve'Tumim to reply is interpreted as the Kohanim's prosecution of King Sha'ul for killing the city of Nov).
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