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Torah Attitude: Parashas Emor: Counting turns barley guzzlers into wheat eaters
It appears that the Omer offering and the New Meal offering have a special connection to Pesach and Shavuous. Mordechai and his students were saved in the merit of the Omer offering. Our reading and studying of the various offerings is considered as if we brought them in the Temple. Pesach is a Day of Judgment for the produce; Shavuous is a Day of Judgment for the fruit of the trees. With the bringing of the Omer offering we express our understanding that the Hand of G'd is behind all laws of nature. Everything which happens to the Jewish people, even what appears to be nature, is guided by the Divine Hand. After 49 days of counting, the low spiritual level of the Omer offering of barley leads to the high spiritual level of the New Meal offering of wheat and the giving of the Torah. The impurity of the Jewish people was so severe that they needed a count of seven times seven to purify themselves.
The Omer and New Meal offerings
In the middle of this week's parasha, the Torah enumerates all the Festivals. It starts with the weekly Shabbos and continues from Pesach to Succos. Between the verses dealing with Pesach and Shavuous there is a small portion that deals with the commandment of bringing the Omer offering on the second day of Pesach. The Torah instructs that we shall count for seven weeks from the second day of Pesach till Shavuous. On Shavuous, says the Torah, the New Meal offering must be brought, accompanied by a number of animal offerings. It seems strange that none of the other offerings brought on the Festivals are mentioned in detail in this week's parasha. It appears that the Omer offering and the New Meal offering have more of a connection to the festivals of Pesach and Shavuous than the other offerings. It further seems that the 49 days of counting between Pesach and Shavuous combines the two offerings as well as the two Festivals.
Haman and the Omer
In order to understand the connection between these two offerings and Pesach and Shavuous, we must clarify the significance of these offerings and the counting in between. The Midrash Rabbah (Vayikra 28:6) relates a number of instances when our ancestors were saved in the merit of the Omer offering. One incident (see Talmud Megillah 16a), occurred at the time of the Purim story when King Ahashvarous told Haman to take Mordechai and parade him throughout the streets of Shushan on the Royal Horse. This took place on the second day of Pesach. Haman went to look for Mordechai and found him teaching the laws of the Omer offering. When Mordechai saw Haman in the distance, he warned his students and told them to run away. He then began to pray to prepare himself for what he believed were his last moments. The students, however, decided to remain with their teacher. They declared that whatever happened to Mordechai would happen to them and continued to study. When Haman arrived he asked the students what they were doing. They told him that they were studying the laws of the Omer offering that was brought by the Jews in the Temple on this day of Pesach. Haman asked whether the offering was made of gold or silver. The students said no, it was made of barley. He then asked whether it was a huge amount of barley and was very expensive. The students said it would only cost ten small coins. Exclaimed Haman, "Your ten small coins had the power to push away my ten thousand silver coins" (see Esther 3:8-11).
Study is considered offering
Haman obviously had an understanding of the significance of bringing the Omer offering. He even understood what the Talmud (Menachos 110a) teaches that at a time when we do not have the Temple, our reading and studying about the various offerings is considered as if we brought them in the Temple. It was no mere chance that on the same day Mordechai and his students studied the laws of the Omer offering, they were saved from the hands of Haman. They knew that they were in danger and nevertheless they continued to study. For they understood the protective power of Torah study in general, and of the laws of the Omer offering in particular.
Days of Judgment
The Talmud (Rosh Hashanah 16a) explains that the Omer offering, made from barely, is brought on Pesach, when we are being judged how the produce of the year will be. Similarly, the New Meal offering, made of wheat, is brought on Shavuous, together with species of the new fruit, because it is a Day of Judgment in regards to the fruit of the trees.
The Hand of G'd
A superficial reading of the story of Purim gives the impression that it is a sequence of separate natural occurrences. The name of G'd is not mentioned even once in the Book of Esther. However, when we look at the story of Purim through the lens of our sages, we see that there is a connection between all the occurrences, and we realize that everything was put together by G'd. The Talmud (Chulin 139b) actually teaches that Esther is hinted in Parashas Vayeilech (Devarim 31:18) where G'd says "I will hide Myself". Rav Dessler explains that this is the lesson of the Omer offering. He quotes from the Maharal that when we bring the Omer offering we express our appreciation that nature is not governed by its own laws but by the Hand of G'd. When the students studied the laws of the Omer offering with Mordechai, they internalized its lesson and acknowledged that everything that was happening was not a sequence of natural events. Rather, everything was being guided by the Hand of G'd. It was in the merit of this understanding that the Jews at the time were saved.
Nothing by chance
At the time of the Temple, the Omer offering was brought during Pesach when we celebrate the exodus from Egypt. G'd revealed himself to the Jewish people and all of mankind at the exodus from Egypt through open miracles. This clearly taught that G'd is in control of every part of the universe, and that all elements follow His instructions. The Ramban, at the end of Parashas Bo, teaches that from the great and open miracles, at the time of the exodus, we learn that everything that happens to the Jewish people, even what appears to be natural occurrences, is guided by the Hand of G'd. Absolutely nothing happens by chance. Mordechai taught this message on Pesach, at the time when we celebrate the miraculous events of the exodus and bring the Omer offering. Every year we have the opportunity to reinforce this lesson, and thus we are reminded that our natural everyday life is nothing but a chain of hidden miracles.
Barley and wheat
The commentaries point out that in the Talmud barley is generally considered animal food, whereas wheat is considered a grain mainly used for human consumption. At the time of the exodus, the Jewish people were still under the influence of the Egyptian culture. The Egyptians served their sheep as idols and were far removed from the Holiness of G'd. The Omer offering of barely reflects the low level of spirituality the Jewish people were at, when they left Egypt. It was so low that they were almost at the level of someone suited to eat barely. During the forty nine days of counting towards the Festival of Shavuous, G'd elevated them to a high spiritual level to ready them to receive the Holy Torah. In this way, they rose to a level where they were suited to use wheat for the New Meal offering.
The Zohar (Vayikra 97) explains that because of the impurity of the Jewish people at the time of the exodus, we are not suited to say the complete Hallel for the last six days of Pesach. Hallel is only said on the first day when a special Divine spiritual elevation allowed our ancestors to bring the Pesach offering at the time of the exodus. On the second day of Pesach and for the next seven weeks, they had to rid themselves of the impurity of the Egyptian culture and reach a spiritual level that enabled them to accept the Torah on Shavuous. On that day we again say the complete Hallel.
Says the Zohar, the Jewish people were in a similar situation to a woman who has become impure and must purify herself by counting seven days before she can go to the Mikvah. However, the impurity of the Jewish people was so severe that they needed to count seven times seven to purify themselves before being ready to accept the Torah.
The obvious question is what is our connection to the level of spirituality of our ancestors when they left Egypt? We find the answer in the Haggadah of Seder night where we say that every person is obligated to consider themselves as being part of the exodus from Egypt. Just like the Jewish people were contaminated by their contact with the Egyptian people and their culture, so are we influenced by the environment of the immoral permissive society we live in. Therefore, we must conduct ourselves similar to the way our ancestors did at the time of the exodus. The Jews in Egypt were told that the higher purpose for their exodus was to bring them to Mount Sinai to accept the Torah. In their longing and excitement for that day they immediately started counting towards it. In the same way, we follow in their footsteps and count seven times seven days of purification to free ourselves of foreign influences of impurity that surround us. Each day of counting brings us closer to our personal acceptance of the Torah on the upcoming festival of Shavuous.
These words were based on notes of Rabbi Avraham Kahn, the Rosh Yeshiva and Founder of Yeshivas Keser Torah in Toronto.
Shalom. Michael Deverett
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