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Torah Attitude: Parashas Emor: From Egypt to Mount Sinai
"Everyone is obligated to regard himself as if he personally went out of Egypt." "And you shall count for yourself … seven complete weeks … you shall count fifty days." We were commanded to count every one of these forty nine days to feel the importance of the day when G'd revealed Himself to the entire Jewish people and gave us His Torah. It is within our grasp during this period to strengthen ourselves and shake off the impurities of the society around us, and to rise to our task as G'd's chosen people. Why did G'd delay the arrival of the Jewish people to Mount Sinai for forty nine days? The Jewish people is obligated every year to count seven times seven days to go through the same experience of purification that our ancestors did during these forty nine days. In order to re-establish his relationship with G'd, Adam had to repent for forty nine days. The Arizal explains that there are forty nine levels of purity, as well as forty nine levels of impurity. The area where the Jewish people had lived was the most immoral part of Egypt. Just like an infant is given different kinds of vaccinations to build up its immune system to protect it as far as possible against any sicknesses it may encounter, in the same way G'd prepared the fledging Jewish nation for all possible encounters throughout the future generations in order to ensure that the Jewish people would always have the strength to survive and endure. No one is too far gone that it is not possible to embark upon a personal journey from Egypt to Mount Sinai and accept the Torah and its laws.
Personally went out of Egypt
On Seder night, we read in the Hagaddah: "Everyone is obligated to regard himself as if he personally went out of Egypt." Consequently, we should continue in this spirit throughout the forty nine days from the day of the exodus from Egypt till the day of the revelation at Mount Sinai when we celebrate the Festival of Shavuous. This whole period should not be regarded just as a historic remembrance of what happened at the time of the exodus in the year 2448 of the Jewish calendar. Rather, we should all make an effort to relive how we were saved from the bondage in Egypt and went into the wilderness, culminating with our acceptance of G'd's Torah.
Count seven weeks
In this week's Parasha (Vayikra 23:15) we are instructed to count every day from Pesach to Shavuous, as it says: "And you shall count for yourself … seven complete weeks … you shall count fifty days." The Torah teaches that every individual in every generation shall make this a personal experience, as it says "you shall count for yourself."
Count every one of forty nine days
The Sefer HaChinuch (paragraph 306) explains that the main purpose of the exodus from Egypt was to reach Mount Sinai where the Jewish people received the Torah. G'd already instructed Moses about this prior to sending him down to Egypt when G'd said (Shemos 3:12): "This is a sign for you that I have sent you. When you take the people out of Egypt, you will serve G'd on this mountain." This servitude started when the Jewish people accepted the Torah. The Chinuch continues to explain that this is why we were commanded to count every one of these forty nine days. In this way, we show how we still today feel the importance of the day when G'd revealed Himself to the entire Jewish people and gave us His Torah.
Shake off impurities
Just as our ancestors were able to leave behind all the impurity of the Egyptian society, and with Divine assistance elevated and readied themselves for the supreme experience of hearing G'd addressing them, so it is within our grasp during this period to strengthen ourselves and shake off the impurities of the society around us, and to rise to our task as G'd's chosen people.
The Torah relates that, at the time of the exodus, G'd did not take the Jewish people on the direct route from Egypt to Israel, as G'd foresaw that the people were not ready to battle the Philistines that they would encounter on that route. G'd therefore took them through the wilderness in a roundabout route (see Shemos 13:17-18). But even this route could have been travelled in a faster pace. So why did G'd delay their arrival to Mount Sinai for forty nine days?
Seven times seven
The Or HaChaim, in his commentary on this week's Parasha, explains that these seven weeks was the time the Jewish people needed to rid themselves of the impurities of the Egyptian society and get ready to accept the Torah. Just as the Torah instructs that a woman who has had a discharge is required to wait seven days before re-entering her relationship with her husband, so too the Jewish people had to wait seven weeks before being ready to enter their relationship with G'd. However, unlike the woman who only needs to wait seven days, the impurity of the Jewish people coming out of Egypt was so severe, that it needed seven times seven days. And just like the Torah says by the woman who has become impure (Vayikra 15:28): "And she must count for herself seven days and afterwards she becomes pure", so is the Jewish people every year obligated to count seven times seven days to go through the same experience of purification that our ancestors did during these forty nine days.
In Pirkei D' Rabbi Eliezer (Chapter 20) it is related that when Adam entered the waters of the River Gichon after his sin (see Torah Attitude Torah Attitude: Parashas Tazria-Metzora: Purification powers of the mikvah, April 23, 2009), he stayed in the water and fasted for seven weeks. At that time Adam prayed: "Master of the world, please remove my sin and accept my repentance, and may all generations learn from this, that repentance is possible, and that You are ready to accept those who repent." When Adam and Eve had eaten from the Tree of Knowledge, they brought death and impurity into the world. Adam understood that in order to re-establish his relationship with G'd, he had to repent for forty nine days.
Forty nine levels
The great Kabbalist, the Arizal, explains that there are forty nine levels of purity, as well as forty nine levels of impurity. Many members of the Jewish people had fallen to the lowest level of impurity during the bondage in Egypt. At the time of the exodus, G'd assisted them to leave behind any impurity that they had been influenced by. And throughout the forty nine days, as they counted each day towards their encounter with G'd, they went from one step to the next of the forty nine levels of purity (see also Zohar Chadash, beginning of Parashas Yithro).
Lowest moral society
In Parashas Acharei Mos (Vayikra 18:2) it says: "You may not do like the deeds of the land of Egypt that you dwelled in." Rashi quotes from the Toras Kohanim (13:6) that the land of Egypt was the lowest moral society of the time, and the area where the Jewish people had lived was the most immoral part of Egypt. The obvious question arises why would G'd bring about that the Jewish people should be challenged and live is such an immoral society, full of impurity? And as we see from the above, many Jews were affected severely.
In the beginning of Parashas Beshalach, Rashi quotes the Mechilta that explains that only 20% of the entire Jewish people merited to leave Egypt. 80% perished during the plague of darkness. So it is obvious that it was a very difficult test for the Jewish people to live in the Egyptian environment. However, this test was a real necessity. As the family of Jacob developed into a nation throughout the bondage in Egypt, G'd prepared them for all future experiences. Just like an infant is given different kinds of vaccinations to build up its immune system to protect it as far as possible against any sicknesses it may encounter, in the same way G'd prepared the fledging Jewish nation for all possible encounters throughout the future generations in order to ensure that the Jewish people would always have the strength to survive and endure. Although a high percentage of individuals succumbed to the test, the Jewish people left Egypt with newfound strength. As it says (Shemos 14:8): "And the children of Israel were going out with an upraised arm." It is this strength that has made it possible that every Jew wherever he is, and however far he has strayed from the path of the Torah, will always be able to repent and rise from the lowest levels of impurity to the highest levels of purity and holiness.
None too far gone
This is the deeper meaning of our obligation expressed on Seder night, to consider ourselves as if we are leaving Egypt and its impurities. No one is too far gone that it is not possible to embark upon a personal journey from Egypt to Mount Sinai and accept the Torah and its laws. And this can be accomplished even while we are still in exile, just as the Jewish people at Mount Sinai had not yet reached the ultimate goal and entered the Land of Israel. However, the complete and highest level of purity and holiness will only take place when we will merit to return to Zion and rebuild the Temple where we will be able to serve G'd and study His Torah in full measure.
These words were based on a talk given by Rabbi Avraham Kahn, the Rosh Yeshiva and Founder of Yeshivas Keser Torah in Toronto.
Shalom. Michael Deverett
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