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23 Iyar 5761 - May 16, 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 I

A reason that is given why we read Megillas Ruth on Shavuos is that we see in Ruth a striking example of self-sacrifice. Ruth could have remained with her own people. Instead, she chose to accept the strictness and confinements of Torah and Jewish life. In spite of all Naomi's pleading to dissuade Ruth from following after her, Ruth was undeterred. Ruth remained firm in her determination to join Naomi and become a part of her people.

Ruth was a young, beautiful woman. It seemed pointless for her to give up so much of her youthful life to follow her mother-in-law Naomi back to Eretz Israel. Naomi argued time after time that she should turn back. Orpah, Ruth's sister- in-law, listened to Naomi's arguments and left. Ruth did not. She continued on even after Naomi said to her (Ruth 1:15), "Look, your sister-in-law has returned to her people and her god; go follow your sister-in-law."

Ruth clung to Naomi and refused to turn back. The next posuk tells us Ruth's response to Naomi's last plea to change Ruth's mind, "Do not urge me to leave you, to turn back and not follow you. For wherever you go, I will go; wherever you lodge, I will lodge; your people are my people, and your G- d is my G-d; where you die I will die, and there I shall be buried."

This response silenced Naomi, for "When she saw she was determined to go with her, she stopped her arguing with her, and the two of them went on until they came to Beis Lechem." Although Ruth was steadfast and unyielding, this did not convince Naomi. There were many sound reasons why Ruth should remain with her own people and in her own land. Naomi depicted a very sad future for Ruth. Nothing would await her in a new land and amongst new people. She would be giving up her youth -- for what? It would all be in vain.

Ruth was not influenced at all. Amazingly, each time Naomi talked with her, Ruth had more heart, more resolution to continue onward. The posuk emphasizes Ruth's increasing determination as the cause for Naomi's consent to Ruth's desire to join her. Usually, after so much dissuasion, a person weakens. Their desire wanes.

Undaunted by Naomi's arguments, Ruth grew increasingly firm. She mustered more courage and her resolve was strengthened. Naomi saw that Ruth was so increasingly determined to go along with her that no further discussion would be fruitful in changing her mind. If the more she reasoned with Ruth the more determined she would become, then it would be pointless to keep talking about changing Ruth's mind.

Therefore, Naomi allowed her to come along. Ruth passed the test. How did she do it? What gave Ruth the courage to go on in spite of Naomi's dissuasion? Her sister-in-law Orpah gave up whereas Ruth possessed something that gave her the impetus to grow ever stronger in her conviction.

Both women were princesses, accustomed to royal comfort and wealth. Orpah turned back because she saw a black future in store for her if she remained with Naomi. She saw no reason to give everything up and sacrifice a life of a princess -- for what! She was the daughter of a king. That meant a lot to her. Ruth too, was the king's daughter, yet she left it all behind. With every attempt to convince her otherwise, she grew increasingly determined. Why did she have the courage to turn her back on all the world had to offer and Orpah did not?

When a person sees a very bleak picture of life in front of him, his spirit is dampened. If there is a hope of something brighter in life that awaits him he will have more simcha and gather the courage to go on. However, if all that one can expect is the sadness of an empty, useless future, what will give the person the courage to continue? When a person can focus his thoughts on a goal, from this stems the motivation that will carry him through, even during times of difficulty and effort. Motivation will slacken when one loses sight of his goal, his purpose in life.

In the world of Torah, our yeshivas and kollelim, lack of motivation can be a very common problem, which is not experienced by those in occupations, businesses or professions. The businessman or professional sees something for himself in the future. There are short-term returns for their efforts. A doctor or a lawyer sees progress and advancement in his field of specialization. They open a clinic or office and they have clientele. Their practice grows. They can become wealthy, enjoy prestige and be influential.

One would never enter any venture if the outlook were unpromising, nothing to expect in the future. A black forecast. Bankruptcy and failure entice no one. A sensible person would never pursue a career that did not offer at least some chance, some hope, of success. Ruth was different. She did what no one else would have done. What caused this?

Naomi obviously represented for Ruth a shining example of Torah life. Ruth chose to cling to Naomi as she said, " . . .your people are my people, and your G-d is my G-d . . ." Through Naomi's living example, Ruth saw greatness in Jewish life according to Torah. Naomi, as her name implies was a sweet, gracious person, an eishes chayil. Certainly, this attracted Ruth to the fold of Yiddishkeit.

Naomi was also from a family of aristocracy. Elimelech, the husband of Naomi, was one of the leaders of the generation and from the royal tribe of Yehudah. Ruth's statement of wanting to be part of such a heritage makes sense. However, the statement that followed, " . . .where you die I will die, and there I shall be buried" -- what difference should it make where Naomi will die, and that it too should be the place of death for Ruth? What was the meaning behind this statement that added more rationale to Ruth's desire to be part of Judaism? How does this last statement concerning death and burial add significance to Ruth's assurance of devotion to Naomi, her people and her G-d? Why should death be a motivation for Ruth's conversion?

We have a clue to understanding Ruth from a remark that Bilaam made when he was hired by Bolok, the king of Moab, to curse Klal Israel. In the midst of his foiled attempts to curse us, for Hashem did not allow it, Bilaam makes a similar reference to death (Bamidbar 23:10), "May my soul die the death of the upright, and may my end be like his!" Who are the "upright" that Bilaam refers to? To our righteous forefathers Avrohom, Yitzchok and Yaakov. Bilaam desired that his death should be like theirs and his end should be like theirs.

Avrohom Ovinu's death is described for us in the Torah (Bereishis 25:8), "And Avrohom expired and died at a good old age, venerable and satisfied, and he was gathered to his people." He had lived a long and full life. The Ramban zt"l explains this to mean that, "He saw the realization of all his heart's desires and was satisfied with all that was good." All of Avrohom's desires and wishes were fulfilled. The Ramban zt"l goes on to explain that this is a unique occurrence only for tzaddikim -- that when they leave this world, they leave it with a feeling of satisfaction and fulfillment. What they sought to accomplish was realized. All their wishes came true.

The Ramban zt"l continues, "This is not so about other people, as it is said (Koheles 5:9), `The one who loves money will not be satisfied with money.' About this is said (Koheles Rabba 1:13), `That a person does not leave the world having [even] half of his desires in his hand. He has in his hand one hundred and he desires two hundred. He acquires two hundred and he desires to make it four hundred, for as it is said, 'The one who loves money will not be satisfied with money.' " The millionaire is interested in being a multimillionaire, and then a billionaire. There is no self-satisfaction, no contentment. He is never happy with himself. There is no feeling of gratification, which, if he felt it, he could say, "I have everything I have wished for, I don't desire anything else from life."

Tzadikim have this and reshoim do not. The full realization of this hits a person at the time of his death. Speak to a rich man who is about to die. He may be worth millions, but on his deathbed, there is a feeling of regret. There is remorse over a life that did not achieve its purpose and so, he is discontent.

Looking back over his life, he asks himself, "What am I leaving behind?" He amassed millions of dollars, but when the time comes to part with all of it, he is not a happy person. Unless, chas vesholom, he has no belief in HaKodosh Boruch Hu -- and he is an apikores, or he is completely hefker and does not even care about himself. However, one who believes in HaKodosh Boruch Hu, a sensible person who believes that life has a purpose and a goal -- in the end, when he realizes that it was not achieved, he will be very unhappy. The last years of his life, before he leaves this world, will be filled with a sense of lack of accomplishment, for he did not fulfill his purpose in life. All his millions will remain here while he moves on to the Next World. What lasting purpose was accomplished?

In contrast, the tzaddik dies a death of gratification and contentment. He is at ease with himself that he fulfilled his aim in life. Avrohom Ovinu died at a ripe old age, fully accomplished. Each of his days had a part to play in helping him reach his goal and purpose in life. Each of the days of his life combined to create something lasting and eternal. At the end, there was the feeling of accomplishment and contentment. Bilaam, the rosho, lived entirely for himself, steeped in the pleasures and decadence of this world. Yet, when he envisioned his end, his death, he wanted to have the same death as the great tzaddikim, our Avos; Avrohom, Yitzchok and Yaakov. He longed to have that feeling of happiness from the fact that he accomplished in this world.

The sum total of each day of his life was a tally of one pleasure after the next. His accomplishment -- pleasure! What does that add up to? All those pleasures can not combine to produce a feeling of fulfillment over a life of waste and depravity. One can not live a corrupt life and then die like a tzaddik. Only a tzaddik can look back over his life and see lasting accomplishments; only then will there be satisfaction at the end. Each day must combine with the next to produce a lifetime's sense of purpose and gratification.

Based on the teachings of the Vilna Gaon zt"l, the sefer Even Sheleimoh (10:11) explains that after death, there is a certain angel which comes with an account of the person's time while he was alive. Each and every moment is inspected to see what was done with the time that Hashem allotted to the person in this world. It was known that the Chofetz Chaim zt"l would spend part of his day by himself, in a special room, in order to make a cheshbon hanefesh -- he would analyze how he spent the day's time. Once, Rav Yeruchom zt"l, the mashgiach of the Mirrer Yeshiva, and Rav Naftali Tropp zt"l, both of whom had learned together in Kelm and were then in Radin, were curious to know how the Chofetz Chaim zt"l, made this accounting. They discovered that the Chofetz Chaim zt"l scrutinized each minute. When the Chofetz Chaim zt"l realized that on that day, twelve minutes could not be accounted for, he began to cry out, "Yisrael Meir! Yisrael Meir!" When his cries became so vehement, they ran away.

All this was over a lack of accountability for twelve minutes! Such an attitude for the value of time made the Chofetz Chaim zt"l into the leader of his people. It brought forth all his seforim, his accomplishments, his everlasting contributions and influence to the Klal Israel. A person's life is created by his days -- a long chain of events which can result in his greatness.

Such an attitude for the importance of time is part of assuming the yoke of Torah. Hashem helps a person to assume this yoke and gain this attitude. It is part of Kabolas HaTorah. Once this is realized, no sensible person would lose even one of his days. This is what brings accomplishment and satisfaction in life.

The Zohar explains that each and every one of Avrohom Ovinu's days were accounted for. He came to the Next World with all his days. Each day gave a reckoning about what and how much was accomplished in it. This was his greatness, for each day contributed to his spiritual virtues and all the days combined to make up Avrohom Ovinu. Therefore, each of our days should be a precious gift for us to use to the utmost. This, as it is written (Tehillim 34:13), "He who desires life -- loves the days . . ."

Count each and every day as important. We should not be fooled into thinking about weeks, months or years -- to imagine that there is plenty of time to accomplish. No, each day counts for your life's purpose, just like we see during the counting of the Sefira.

From the second day of Pesach, we count forty- nine days. This counting is referred to as Sefiras HaOmer. After the counting, on the fiftieth day, we observe the yom tov of Shavuos. This seven week period is in anticipation to our Kabolas HaTorah. The Sefer Hachinuch (Mitzvah 306) compares the expectation for the day of Shavuos to that of a slave counting the days towards his release and his freedom from slavery.

A slave, knowing that his emancipation will take place in a month's time, yearns for the day and feels increasingly elated as each day passes. Each day brings him closer to what he desires most: his freedom. Likewise, as the Sefer Hachinuch explains, "The whole core of Jewish life is nothing but the Torah. It is for the sake of Torah that the heaven, the earth, and Klal Yisrael were created . . . this is the basis and the reason for them being redeemed and taken out of Egypt. In order that they accept the Torah at Sinai and fulfill it . . . For this reason, since it is the essence of Jewish life, and for its sake they were redeemed and were elevated to all their great status -- we were commanded to count from the day after the yom tov of Pesach until the day that the Torah was given. This is to arouse in our souls a great yearning for that precious day -- our heart's anticipation. Like [Iyov 7:2], 'A slave longs for the shade' and always counts the time to come for the expected moment of his release to freedom. For the counting reveals that the person's whole desire and yearning is to reach that moment." The ultimate result of our freedom from our Egyptian bondage was to accept the Torah. We too, count in expectancy of the day of Shavuos.

This explanation poses a difficulty, for there is a dispute amongst the poskim as to whether the mitzvah of Sefiras HaOmer in our times is a Torah obligation or a Rabbinical obligation (Mishnah Berurah 489:1, Biyur Halachah). If the obligation is Rabbinical, the explanation is understood. Our counting is a remembrance of what occurred in preparation for Kabolas HaTorah that happened then. Klal Yisrael, when they left Egypt and looked forward to accepting Hashem's Torah felt like the slave who is yearning for his day of freedom. It was real for them, so they felt it.

However, if our counting is a Torah obligation, then each day that we count is in anticipation of our accepting the Torah. It is not a recollection, but a presently felt experience -- we are yearning for a real event. Each day we get closer to accepting the Torah. Is this true? Do we accept the Torah on Shavuos? It was already given to Klal Yisrael years ago on the first Shavuos. How does the Sefer Hachinuch's analogy to a slave yearning for the day of his freedom relate to us? When Klal Yisrael first left Egypt it was like that, for they were headed towards Sinai in expectation of receiving the Torah from Hashem. Today, when we approach the Yom Tov of Shavuos, how does our counting the Omer fit in?

The Talmud Yerushalmi (Rosh Hashanah 21a) has a tremendous insight, "R' MeSharshe'ah said in the name of R' Eidi that by all the korbonos it is written `chet' [sin]; and by Atzeres [Shavuos] it is not written `chet.' HaKodosh Boruch Hu says to them, "Since you have accepted upon yourselves the yoke of Torah, I attribute it to you as if there were no sins in your days." Hashem regards us on Shavuos, as being without sin. We are completely absolved of any of our wrongdoings. Everything was erased because of the act of assuming the yoke, all the responsibilities, obligations and efforts required to know and observe the Torah. We can achieve on Shavuos even more than we can on Yom Kippur!

End of Part I

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