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1 Sivan 5761 - May 23, 2001 | Mordecai Plaut, director Published Weekly








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Opinion & Comment
Our Counting and Ruth's Vision

by HaRav Chaim Pinchas Scheinberg

The following is based on the lectures of HaRav Chaim Pinchas Scheinberg shlita, to his Yeshiva Torah Ore, Jerusalem in the years 5747 and 5753.

Part II

In the first part of this essay, HaRav Scheinberg first discussed Ruth and her surprising desire to stay with her mother-in-law Naomi, even though Ruth's future with her looked bleak. Also, in her speech that finally convinced Naomi that Ruth was irrevocably serious, Ruth says that she will die where Naomi dies. Why is this significant?

Also HaRav Scheinberg explained that tzaddikim live a full life and can look back to accomplishments throughout their lives. Reshoim, who merely pursued pleasure, have nothing to look back at. Tzaddikim look back to a full life of accomplishment.

When we count the Omer for seven weeks between Pesach and Shavuos, we anticipate receiving the Torah, just like a slave anticipates his freedom, according to the analogy of the Sefer Hachinuch. The truth is that even today, Hashem regards us on Shavuos as being without sin and making a new beginning.

This is an astounding chiddush. The Korbon Eidah, in his explanation of the gemora writes, "Every year on Atzeres, it is like we are standing before Har Sinai and we are accepting the Torah anew . . ." Yes, even for us, every year on Shavuos we accept and receive the Torah once again, fresh and anew. We are not simply counting the Omer as a remembrance. No! For we too are preparing to stand again at the foot of Har Sinai and experience a true kabolas HaTorah.

The Penei Moshe elaborates even more and writes, "HaKodosh Boruch Hu said to them, `Since you have accepted upon yourselves the yoke of Torah, that was given on Atzeres -- to endeavor and toil in it all that is necessary -- I attribute it to you as if there were no sins in your days. There is no mention of sin, for the Torah is an atonement for you."

Both commentaries explain that the acceptance of the Torah on the yom tov of Shavuos is real. It is not allegorical, for our very own kabolas HaTorah is genuine. If so, then our counting of the Sefiras HaOmer today is also just like it was at the time when the Klal Yisroel was redeemed from slavery in Egypt and approached Har Sinai.

From this, we can understand how the mitzvah of Sefiras HaOmer is a Torah obligation and the sefer Hachinuch's comparison to a slave yearning for the day of his freedom directly relates to us. We have our own kabolas HaTorah to prepare for and look forward to. Every Shavuos, it is as if we stand by Har Sinai and receive the Torah from HaKodosh Boruch Hu.

The counting of the Sefiras HaOmer includes, in many siddurim, besides the sum of the days that have passed in the count, a special annotation for each day. The first day is characterized as Chesed ShebeChesed. The second day as Gevurah ShebeChesed. The third as Tifferes ShebeChesed. Then comes Netzach ShebeChesed. The fifth day is Hode ShebeChesed and the sixth is Yesod ShebeChesed. The final, seventh day of the first week is signified as Malchus ShebeChesed. Each day combines a particular aspect to the sphere of Chesed. When the week is completed, we count, "Today is seven days, which are one week, of the Omer." Who does not know that seven days make up a week?

Everyone knows that seven days combine to make up a week. Yet the mitzvah is to count both the days and the weeks. If each is a separate mitzvah, we could even make two separate blessings, one for the days and one for the weeks. However, we combine them and recite only one blessing for both. Clearly, for the sake of mathematics, we do not need to add up the sum and restate its value into weeks. There is a real lesson for us to learn by doing this.

In addition, the cycle is repeated, with each aspect -- Gevurah, Tifferes, Netzach, Hode, Yesod and Malchus -- drawing from the influence of each of their seven days to complete each sphere. When we have a total of seven days of course it is a week, but more than this, we are being taught that they are not seven entities, individual and unrelated. The seven days unify to comprise an entirely new unit, which includes the essence of each day. This is called a week. A separate counting of the days would not reveal the interrelationship between one day and the next.

The fusion of each day to the next results in a new realm, which we call a week. All the characteristics of each day -- its unique aspect and quality -- culminate in perfecting the week. If one is missing, like a chain that is lacking just one link -- the chain falls apart. Each day must contribute its attributes to the week, and if not, the week is deficient and incomplete.

The final forty-ninth day at the completion of seven weeks is characterized as being Malchus ShebeMalchus. This is in reference to the sovereignty of Heaven, the supremacy of Hashem's rule over the world. The fear and respect that we have for Hashem, our yiras Shomayim -- is Malchus Shomayim. A king demands the loyalty, respect and fear of his subjects; this is an outstanding quality unique to a king. Our counting each of the seven weeks, together with their combined days, brings us to Shavuos, our Har Sinai, and then we can feel the majesty of Hashem's rule over us and accept His Torah.

Each day is essential, for without each day's contribution to the Sefirah, the ultimate result will be flawed. Each one of the seven Sefirahs are different manifestations of Hashem's Malchus, His kingship. They all indicate the kedusha, the holiness of HaKodosh Boruch Hu and the ultimate result is the recognition of the perfection of Hashem's malchus Shomayim. Together, the days and the weeks make up the links in this chain. If one is left out, there is no malchus Shomayim. The days are counted along with their total in weeks because each must join with the other to produce the desired result.

The Rambam zt"l in hilchos Talmud Torah (3:13) writes, "Even though there is a commandment to learn during the day and during the night, a person does not learn most of his wisdom except at night. Therefore one who wishes to be privileged to the Crown of Torah should be careful with all his nights, not to waste even one of them . . ." What is a crown?

When a king wears his crown, it attests to the fact that everything is his. All that is in his kingdom is his. It is all at his disposal; whatever he may wish for is his. He lacks nothing. If for some reason, he feels some lack, it is not called true sovereignty. Supreme rule and authority are essential for wearing the crown. If not, it is not true malchus and the crown is just an ornament, a fancy hat.

The Rambam zt"l emphasizes that to be privileged to the Crown of Torah, every night must be used properly. A loss of a night will detract from the eventual totality of his life as a ben Torah. Hashem gives a person a set amount of time. His days are the opportunities that Hashem grants him to accomplish his purpose. If a night is wasted, who can know how much the final outcome will suffer. Therefore the Rambam zt"l warns about not wasting even a single night's efforts in learning.

A ben Torah has his own crown, the Crown of Torah. Like the crown of a king, it too expresses his position and purpose in life. Like a king, the true ben Torah feels that he lacks nothing. Torah supplies all that he needs in life. His learning, if done properly with consistency and depth, is a source of joy and contentment in his life. Consequently, he lacks nothing. It all stems from the recognition of the importance of Torah. One can not reach the depths of Torah without first firmly realizing the significance of Torah.

During the Sefirah we prepare ourselves and anticipate our approach to our own kabolas haTorah on Shavuos. Just as each of the days of the Sefirah is essential for our kabolas haTorah, so too each day of our lives cannot be wasted. Then like Avrohom Ovinu, we too, at the end of our lives in this world can come before Hashem with all our days fully used for a life of Torah.

Ruth was concerned about her days, for her life was at a crossroads. Ruth understood all the possibilities very well. She knew there was a bleak life awaiting her if she chose to follow Naomi. No matter how great a chesed it was to help Naomi, was it really worth it for Ruth to lose a bright future? She was far more generous than normal. Ruth went far beyond donating time or money. She had a nobility of heart that enabled her to leave it all behind. It was not just for the sake of Naomi, but it was for Hashem.

We are all capable of such heights of altruism for, as it was written (Tehillim 47:10),"The nobles of the nations gathered -- the nation of the G-d of Avrohom." The posuk here uses the word "nobles" to refer to those who have hearts that are motivated by noble, selfless intentions. Rashi explains that the nobles that the posuk speaks about are, "Those who sacrificed themselves to be slaughtered and killed for the Holy Name," for the highest form of altruism is to generously and willingly return one's life to the One who gave it.

Rashi continues and explains why the connection is made to Avrohom Ovinu, "For he was the first with a generous heart -- the vanguard for converts." Avrohom Ovinu bestowed the highest form of generosity to Hashem. He acknowledged Hashem as the One and Only True G-d and he was willing to sacrifice his life rather than betray the One G-d. His heart was resolved to return to its Creator for the sake of His Great Name.

All succeeding converts to Jewish faith take their lesson from Avrohom Ovinu. Ruth too had this generosity of heart that allowed her to follow in the footsteps of Avrohom, to make the full conversion to Judaism and continue onward along with Naomi. This kind of generosity is a form of kindness that we too can bestow on Hashem. When we put aside our own benefits and considerations and instead, we act on behalf of Hashem -- this is the highest degree of generosity possible.

Ruth saw a purpose in her life. She had a clear vision of what her last day could be like. She looked ahead to the time of her death and was resolved to make that last moment of her life a happy one. She desired to be able to think back over the days of her life and to rejoice that she did not leave Naomi, Naomi's people and her G-d. To be happy that she was not distracted by the world's temptations. To be grateful that in the end she did have a wonderful life by joining Naomi at a time when there was nothing to look forward to by going with her. There was the mitzvah of kindness with Naomi, and all the other mitzvos to be done by being a Jewess; that was enough. This was what Ruth was living for. She knew that the pleasures of the world do not mean much and in the end, they all add up to nothing.

In the prime of her life, Ruth turned her back on it all. For us, our youthful years are normally spent chasing after fun and adventure. The excitements of life are very tempting, and without a higher goal to strive for, a person becomes confused by the physical urges. After a time, with age, when these urges subside, not much is left. Eventually, even favorite pastimes become impossible to enjoy. The feet simply do not move like they used to -- tennis and golf games are history, never to be enjoyed again.

Tzaddikim work for a lasting goal and so they enjoy their accomplishments. They can look back and rejoice over the example they set for others, the Torah they learned, their mitzvos and acts of kindness. They are content that they have raised children who are bnei Torah and that they have supported Yeshivas and kollelim -- all this adds up to an everlasting monument even after they pass from this world. These acts remain forever and ever. Death is not final; it is not the very end. That death should not be the end, but rather a beginning -- this is what motivated Ruth.

Therefore, everything the world had to offer to a young, beautiful daughter of a king meant nothing to her. She could have married anyone she wished. Instead she chose a life with Naomi and finally, when she did marry, it was to Boaz who, although he was a giant of Torah and a leader for his generation, was very old.

She saw the greatness of Boaz. She looked beyond his many years and saw something spiritual, an opportunity for eternity. This was what her heart was set on all along and it was for this reason that the more that Naomi attempted to dissuade her from continuing onward, Ruth became evermore firm and convinced in her resolve not to take leave of Naomi.

The posuk in Mishlei (6:23), "A mitzvah is a candle and Torah is a fire . . . " illustrates this point. A candle, a lone flame, can stand up against a gentle breeze. It will flicker, but normally it will not go out. However, if a strong wind comes, it will be extinguished. A fire is just the opposite. The stronger the wind, the greater the fire will become.

Torah is compared to a fire. Therefore Ruth, whose desire for Torah burned within her -- the stronger the challenge to her conviction to go on, the greater was her desire to go ahead.

Ruth recognized the importance of Torah for her life. What Torah meant for her life was the promise of eventual success and contentment that Hashem has in store for the tzaddikim. Therefore, the more Naomi tried to convince Ruth otherwise, the more Ruth became staunch in her belief.

The motivation for it all was because she knew that in the end she would be a happy person. She knew the beauty of her youthful years would one day vanish as Shlomo Hamelech zt"l teaches us in Mishlei (31:30), "Grace is false and beauty is vain -- a woman who fears Hashem, she should be praised." The time will come that all the world's pleasures cease to gratify, and nothing will be left of a life based on their pursuit. This knowledge gave Ruth her motivation.

There are times that bnei Torah come to me about difficulties in motivation. They feel a lack of impetus to go forward with their learning. Of course, it is natural to feel a lack of drive. It is difficult to sustain one's motivation when, in the midst of their precious youthful, adventurous years that are filled with vitality, there are no outlets for their emotional feelings. Why should they be happy, why should they want to learn?

The answer lies in the recognition of the challenge before them. There must be an understanding of the importance of life. If life is perceived only through the limited view that the present moment allows for -- then the picture is bleak and unpromising. The path that a ben Torah sets out onto in today's world is difficult and full of tests. One must fight against all the distractions that the world's temptations throw at him. There are so many obstacles and pitfalls along his road through life.

Although the enticements of today's world are overwhelming, a cheshbon hanefesh, a spiritual accounting -- by looking ahead, can counteract them. Ruth looked at the future, what will eventually and inevitably come to pass. She thought about what will happen when she dies rather than what is happening now. She made an accounting of how she can insure her being happy at the end as opposed to how happy can she make herself now. This gave her motivation.

This is the greatness of a person; to look ahead into the future and realize the consequences of his choices and actions. HaKodosh Boruch Hu blessed us with this ability, and it should be used for serving Him. However, the passions of youth are a hindrance to the calm, thoughtful process of forethought that is needed to make a cheshbon hanefesh and see clearly into the future. The immediate gratification of the present moment interferes with the thoughts and one can not realize what is truly important. Ruth soared above the smoky confusion that her youthful fires produced -- she ignored the present and chose the future. We must look ahead.

This is what Chazal teach us in the gemora Brochos (5a), "A person's yetzer hatov should always clash with his yetzer hora." A person should always put up a challenge against the yetzer hora. The gemara teaches us several strategies and tactics. First, one must wage constant battle, not to give in to the physical desires. One must control them and channel them properly. If this does not succeed, one should learn Torah, so that his mind will not be distracted by thoughts of physical pleasure. If one is still plagued by the false pictures of the yetzer hora, then one should recite the Shema, which will remind a person of the supremacy of Hashem's reign over him and the love we have for Him.

Finally, if all of this is not effective, one should remind oneself of the day of death. Chazal have taught us this powerful weapon. More than learning Torah, thinking ahead to the end of one's days will be the most effective way to quench the fires of the yetzer hora. To think about the endless quiet of the grave -- this can save a person. Yet, youth does not prefer to think about death. People like to think about happy things in life.

According to the Zohar, it is normal for people to think that they will live forever. Most people never think about death. To do so would dampen their spirits and bring the person to a somber state of mind. It is a serious thought. What is there really to look forward to? What is the eventual end?

However, if one does think along these lines, he would realize what he needs to do with his life and what will lead him to a happy end. Then, it will be easier to turn away from all the physical distractions and vain pleasures of this world.

This is how Ruth could do what she did. Everything the world had to offer her meant nothing, and in spite of all the difficulties and hardships along the way, her longing to be at death, like Avrohom Ovinu, "mature and satisfied," gave her the impetus and courage to go on and help Naomi.

When we accept the Torah on Shavuos, we should bear in mind that it is not easy. It is a hard struggle. It is foolish to believe that in a short few years one can achieve mastery and greatness in Torah. Furthermore, a person can become disappointed and frustrated over his seeming lack of success in Torah. It does not happen in a year or two. It is a gradual process of fighting the yetzer hora that slowly replaces the physical pleasures with the happiness of a Torah life. Ruth observed Naomi's example for many years. The more Ruth clung to Naomi the more the beauty of Torah filled her life.

Bilaam, the rosho, with all his pleasures, desired the happy death of the tzaddikim. He wanted to feel at the end that he would be leaving this world as a happy individual. However, that cannot be for it is impossible to feel accomplished when there has been no accomplishment. When the time comes to look back over a life filled with mitzvos, chesed and learning -- a life of Torah, then all the hardships that were experienced fade away, for there is the joy of knowing that there were true and everlasting accomplishments and it was well worth the difficulties. Each day's contribution is counted and the sum total is a purposeful life.

Hashem carefully noted Ruth's determination and her sacrifice. She eventually did marry Boaz, and although he died soon afterward, Hashem allowed her to conceive and give birth. Dovid Hamelech zt"l came from the offspring of this marriage. Ruth's vision extended far into the future, and so she could sacrifice the present for what she envisioned and knew to be true.

We too, with Hashem's help, can also do the same as we wait for the day, may it come soon -- speedily in our days, that the seed of Dovid Hamelech will reach its perfection. Moshiach shall then enlighten the whole world with the truth of Hashem's Torah and Hashem will then be recognized as the One and Absolute G-d. If our kabolas HaTorah is a real one, we can all bring that great day closer.

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