Dei'ah veDibur - Information & Insight

A Window into the Chareidi World

12 Iyar 5759, April 28 1999 | Mordecai Plaut, director Published Weekly







Opinion & Comment
Counting Days and Counting Years
by Rabbi Shmuel Globus

"You shall then count seven complete weeks after the day following the [Pesach] holiday when you brought the Omer as a wave offering, until the day after the seventh week, when there will be [a total of] 50 days." (Vayikro-Emor 23:15)

"You shall count seven sabbatical years, that is, seven times seven years. The period of the seven sabbatical cycles shall thus be 49 years." (Vayikro 25:8)

There is a count of days, the Sefiras HaOmer, in which Klal Yisroel is presently engaged. Each individual performs this count himself.

There was also a count of years, which even in Temple times received little publicity. Yet, it is also among the Taryag Mitzvos. At the beginning of every year, the Sanhedrin counted the number of years that had passed since the last Yovel year. When the fiftieth year arrived, the Sanhedrin would sanctify it as the new Yovel year (Rosh Hashanah 8b).

This mitzvah only applies when all of Klal Yisroel lives in Eretz Yisroel. For only then is the Yovel year observed (Rambam, Hilchos Shmittah Veyovel, 10:3).

The count of the Omer, although still fulfilled, is only derabonon nowadays according to many authorities (Mishnah Berurah 489:25, Biyur Halocho ad loc.)

Here we have two counts of 49 -- one well known, the other not. Is there any connection between them?

At first glance, there are some superficial similarities. Something unifies these two mitzvos on a deeper level as well. At the same time, each bears a unique message.

HaRav Avigdor Nevenzahl, rav of the Old City of Jerusalem, brings out the common meaning of these mitzvos (Sichos Lesefer Vayikro): "First of all, we must understand the meaning of counting. Why is it necessary to count every day? If the point is to calculate the number of years (or days), every Jew could make this calculation in the way most convenient to him -- such as buying a calendar.

"What value did the Torah see in counting, to the extent that it constitutes a positive commandment on its own?

"There are various explanations. We will explain it in the following way: Continuous counting emphasizes the impermanence of the present state. It shows the counter's dissatisfaction with the current situation.

"One who counts, demonstrates that another day has passed, then another day, and he still has not reached the target date which he set for himself. His final goal has not been realized. This is why tomorrow he will again count. The counted days of the Omer are not what is important to him.

"He is working towards the goal of the counting: matan Torah. The days until that hoped-for date constitute an impermanent state, only temporary. He wishes they would pass as quickly as possible, in order to reach the goal of his longing.

"The proof that receiving the Torah is his deepest desire is very simple: As soon as the day of matan Torah arrives, he stops counting."

Indeed, receiving the Torah is the deepest desire of Klal Yisroel. Sefer Hachinuch expresses this: "Israel exists only for the Torah . . . and it is more important to them than going from slavery to freedom.

"For this reason, Hashem designated the Exodus from slavery to be a sign that they would receive the Torah. It is written, `This will be a sign for you that I sent you: When you bring the people out of Egypt, you will serve God on this mountain' (Shmos 3:12) . . . . In other words, you will receive the Torah -- which is the main purpose of the people's redemption. It is also their ultimate good.

"The exodus from slavery is a sign for the receiving of the Torah because the matter of lesser significance always serves as a sign for what is of greater significance. For this reason . . . we were commanded to count from the day following the yom tov of Pesach until the day of matan Torah.

"This shows the deep desire in our hearts to reach that glorious day. It can be compared to a slave who yearns to dwell peacefully in the shade; and counts continually towards the arrival of that longed-for day when he will become free."

Sefer Hachinuch compares Klal Yisroel after the exodus from Egypt to a slave who longs for freedom! HaRav Shlomo Brevda elucidates this astonishing description. He cites Chazal: "Ein ben chorin elo mi she'oseik beTorah- - Only those who engage in Torah study are free" (Pirkei Ovos 6:2). Thus, the only freedom that was important -- for which Klal Yisroel longed -- was spiritual freedom. This means freedom from the yetzer hora. Such freedom comes only from Torah. Klal Yisroel looked to the day when they would be truly free, the day on which they would receive the Torah.

HaRav Nevenzahl explains the counting of the Yovel: "So it is with the counting of the Yovel. The years until the Yovel are an impermanent state, an in- between phase. It is only to the Yovel that we look. Only that year will the Sanhedrin sanctify.

"For fifty years, Klal Yisroel would look to that moment on Yom Kippur of the Yovel year when the shofar blast ushered in the Yovel; and signaled the freeing of Hebrew slaves and the return of ancestral lands to their owners. This moment would reveal to all Who is the true Master and Owner."

There is a common theme to the two countings of 49: counting towards the Torah. HaRav Nevenzahl develops this theme: "Indeed, if we consider the final goal of these two countings . . . we will discover that their superficial similarity -- counting verbally -- is just the tip of the iceberg. They represent deep concepts which these two holidays (Shavuos and the Yom Kippur ushering in the Yovel) have in common.

"The countings and the longing of these two countings are towards the same end: receiving the Torah. Shavuos is the festival of matan Torah; but it is not the only one. Also Yom Kippur is a day of matan Torah. The second Luchos were given on that day . . . . Thus, after counting the 49 days we once again receive the first Luchos; and after counting the 49 years we once again receive the second Luchos."

Torah brings freedom. The Yovel, which commences on a day of matan Torah, is a day whose very essence is freedom. HaRav Nevenzahl explains: "Its physical aspect of freedom is expressed both in man and in the land from which he was formed. Any purchase of land . . . is valid only ` . . . until the Yovel year. It is then released by the Yovel, so that [the original owner] can return to his hereditary land' (Vayikro 25:28).

"The Hebrew slave, even the permanent slave whose ear was pierced, goes free when the Yovel is sanctified . . . . This freedom even affects the inanimate, since even the inanimate field becomes `free' in the Yovel. Field work is then forbidden as it is in Shmittah . . . . This is the physical aspect of the freedom of that Yom Kippur. The earthly court proclaims the freedom of the slave and the land.

"The spiritual aspect of that Yom Kippur's freedom is proclaimed by the Heavenly Court. That is man's spiritual freedom from his sins."

Longing for freedom is the common thread between the counting of the Omer and the counting of the Yovel. It is freedom which comes through Torah -- freedom from the yetzer hora. This is the message of the Yovel year: to "reveal to all Who is the true Master and Owner." We serve Hashem, and none else.

HaRav Nevenzahl continues, "What is the difference between matan Torah of Shavuos and matan Torah of Yom Kippur? Sin!

"On Shavuos, we received the Torah when we were cleansed from sin. We were pure and clean. The sin of Odom Horishon, which until then had stained all of humanity, was erased. `The defilement ceased' of that sin -- Klal Yisroel had just the future ahead of them. We were like Odom Horishon in his time, before he sinned, with a pure world before him. So did the descent of Torah to this world bring the turning of a new page.

"But then came the Cheit Ho'eigel, and returned the world to the darkness of sin, to the state after the primordial sin. This is how we approach the matan Torah of Yom Kippur -- with a past which needs cleaning up, with a load which must be purified. There is need for atonement. When it comes to atonement, it is hard to be sure that no trace will remain from the sin.

"Odom Horishon did teshuvah, and was forgiven. However, his teshuvah was unable to release mankind from the penalty of eventual death. Similarly, Klal Yisroel was forgiven for the Cheit Ho'eigel; and Hashem gave them the second Luchos on Yom Kippur. But they were different Luchos. They did not reach the level of the first ones that were broken."

HaRav Nevenzahl concludes, " . . . The laws of Yom Kippur are indeed more severe than the laws of Shavuos. Nonetheless, Shavuos alludes to a more elevated state, holier and loftier. It represents the state of the first Luchos -- before sin. Thus, when we count the Omer day after day, we are expressing the inner yearning of the Jewish People to reach the end of the count: the end of sin's slavery . . . .

"With anxious hope, Klal Yisroel counts, as one person, the passing days. We anticipate the moment we will once again merit to receive the first Luchos, unblemished and pure -- on which are engraved true freedom."

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