Dei'ah veDibur - Information & Insight

A Window into the Chareidi World

4 Sivan 5759, May 19 1999 | Mordecai Plaut, director Published Weekly








Sponsored by
Shema Yisrael Torah Network
Shema Yisrael Torah Network

Produced and housed by

Opinion & Comment
Sefiras HaOmer
by Rabbi Yair Spolter

The days of Sefirah are ending. We counted, day by day approaching the fiftieth day, which is chag Hashavuos.

The days of the Omer have a deep connection with the holiday of Shavuos, when Klal Yisroel received the Torah. As the Sefer Hachinuch explains, the counting of the Omer is a way of expressing our anticipation for the coming of the great day when Hashem will give us the Torah.

Although this is certainly a valid explanation for the forty- nine day "countdown" preceding kabolas HaTorah, nonetheless it leaves a few questions unanswered. Why, of all the yomim tovim, is Shavuos preceded by a countdown? Was the redemption from Egypt not an important milestone worth counting towards? What about Yom Kippur, the day when every Jew is completely cleansed of sin? Furthermore, why is this count specifically for forty-nine days?

In order to answer these questions, we must probe deeper into understanding the essence of Shavuos, and the forty-nine days of Sefiras HaOmer.

The gemora (Pesochim 68b) relates that the Amora, Rav Yosef used to eat only the choicest meat in celebration of Shavuos. Rav Yosef explained, "Were it not for that day, there are many Yosefs in the marketplace." Rashi explains: "If it were not for that day, for I have learned Torah and I have become elevated, there are many Yosefs in the marketplace. What would be the difference between me and them?"

This was Rav Yosef's explanation for his special celebration of the day of matan Torah. Because of the giving of the Torah to Klal Yisroel at Har Sinai, he was able to learn Torah and to be elevated. Were it not for this romemus, exclaimed Rav Yosef, I would have been a simple "Yosef in the shuk" (and not the Torah giant he actually was).

In the Chumash we also find that giving the Torah to Klal Yisroel brought us to a state of romemus. Immediately after Maamad Har Sinai (Shmos 20, 17), Moshe Rabbeinu tells Klal Yisroel "Hashem came [today] in order to raise you up," as Rashi translates, ". . . to make you great and to raise you up over the other nations."

This is Moshe Rabbeinu's summary of the purpose of Matan Torah -- to give the opportunity to every Jew to be misromem through the study of Torah and fulfillment of mitzvos. This is what Rav Yosef said about himself: that because of the day of Shavuos, he was raised up, and became the great Rav Yosef and not "Yosef in the shuk." Rav Yosef is teaching us that the simcha of Shavuos is the recognition and appreciation of the romemus of Torah. What is this romemus and how can we acquire it?

The gemora in Sanhedrin (99b) quotes a posuk in Iyov which states, "Odom le'omeil yulad - - man was born to toil." The gemora discusses the meaning of this very important posuk. "For what type of toil was man born?" asks the gemora. "Perhaps for the toil of physical labor?" The gemora answers that it is not for the toil of physical labor that man was born, but rather for the toil of Torah study, as it says, (Yehoshua 1) "Lo yomush sefer haTorah hazeh mipicho -- the learning of Torah should never cease to occupy your mouth."

The Maharal MiPrague is perplexed by this gemora. How, he asks, could the gemora have thought that man was born to toil in physical labor? What purpose can man possibly achieve through this type of work?

The Maharal answers based on a very important principle of human nature. Every man is born with an internal drive to create. He desires to go beyond his own physical boundaries and to make a true and lasting impression on the world around him. The word "omeil," explains the Maharal, also means to create. "Odom le'omeil yulad -- man was born to create."

The desire to create is, in essence, a positive instinct. If a person channels it properly -- towards spiritual achievements -- he can achieve greatness. However, to a certain extent, man can also fulfill his desire to create with physical labor. When building great monuments, cities, governments, economic systems and the like, man is creating -- but completely within the realm of the physical world. The results are always temporary and very limited. Nevertheless, it can seem to be so fulfilling that man may mistake "omeil melocho" for his true purpose in life and dedicate himself night and day to his work, defining himself by his profession or social stature. This artificial feeling of accomplishment and fulfillment can prevent one from searching further, for the truly fulfilling toil of "omeil Torah." Therefore, the gemora must point out that it is not for omeil melocho that man was born, rather for omeil Torah -- toil in Torah study. As Chazal warn us in Pirkei Ovos: "Asei Torascho keva umelachtecho 'arai" -- Torah must always remain the center of your life; your work should be understood as only a temporary means.

This gemora reveals to us an important insight into the nature of man. It is within man's capacity to completely lose focus on life, thereby understanding the means as the end. A person's occupation and daily toil, which are necessary for his physical well-being, can become the primary object of his attention, to the point where they are his central focus in life. Without a proper and constant guide, one can easily sink into the quicksand of life's more mundane and trivial aspects, losing touch with the greater reality. In the words of the Chovos Halevovos, "His stomach is his god, his clothing his Torah, and his home a measure of status."

In order to overcome this dangerous tidal wave of spiritual complacency, in order to remain true to ruchniyus ideals in a world of gashmiyus, one must rise out of the trenches of his day-to-day life. One must learn to look at life through the wide angle lens of the greater reality -- to live in G-d's world. One must be misromem.

Chazal tell us that this world is merely a vestibule before the banquet hall of the World to Come. In order not to mistake the vestibule for the banquet hall, we need the power of romemus.

Romemus means retaining one's grasp on reality and dedication to his true purpose in life despite the many distractions which can cloud his vision. It means not getting swept away by the time and energy-consuming toil which fills our lives. Romemus means recognizing that man was born for omeil Torah and not omeil melocho.

This power of romemus is what Klal Yisroel received on yom Matan Toraseinu. Torah keeps us constantly connected with the Ribono Shel Olom. It keeps us focused on our true and ultimate purpose in life. By learning Torah and fulfilling mitzvos, we are living in Hashem's world, connected to the truth. We measure our successes in spiritual -- rather than physical -- terms. We dedicate our time and strength to acquiring spiritual greatness, and are not carried away or fooled by the necessary toil which we engage in to retain our physical well-being.

As the gemora cited above (Sanhedrin 99b) continues, every man must toil in something -- whether it be omeil Torah or omeil melocho. Praised is he who merits to toil in Torah! The gemora is telling us that one who does not live with the perspective of romemus acquired through omeil Torah, will inevitably live in the world of omeil melocho. As the Maharal explained, his drive to create must be channeled somehow.

This is the meaning of Rav Yosef's exclamation that if it was not for the giving of the Torah, and the romemus which he achieved through the study of Torah, he would have been the simple "Yosef in the shuk." If not for Rav Yosef's omeil Torah, he would have been stuck in a world of omeil melocho.

In our days, every ben Torah -- every frum Jew - - is a Rav Yosef. We look around us and see so many Jews who were not privileged to receive a Torah education. Their lives are so empty, void of meaning and fulfillment. They live in the world of omeil melocho, striving for wealth, honor, and whatever other pleasures their hearts desire. Television, politics, business, entertainment -- there is no end to the distractions which take one away from his true purpose and perfection in life. They have truly fulfilled the words of the Chovos Halevovos. Without Torah, they are unable to rise above life's distractions and trivialities. They live lives completely devoid of romemus.

What separates us from them? Why is our life so full and theirs so empty? Only because of Torah. "If not for that day, the day of matan Torah, we would all be living in the world of omeil melocho, and not omeil Torah.

Shavuos is the day we recognize that when G-d came down to Har Sinai to give us the Torah, it was in order to give us this romemus. The giving of the Torah to Klal Yisroel ensured that we always remain connected to G-d, and never to lose the true perspective on life.

As we say daily in our tefillos, "Lema'an lo niga lorik - - in order that our toil not go to waste." This is truly the greatest gift that G-d can bestow on man. It means the difference between living a life of true meaning and fulfillment, and a life of emptiness.

The tremendous joy of Shavuos is a recognition and appreciation of this tremendous gift which G-d bestowed upon us, the children of Avrohom, Yitzchok and Yaakov. On Shavuos we recognize the romemus which Torah brings us by proclaiming that Torah is our only interest and guide in life. We express our deep desire to be completely dedicated to Torah.

As a gesture of this dedication, Jews from all walks of life - - businessmen, lawyers, bus drivers, teachers -- sit up the entire night of Shavuos toiling only in omeil Torah. The entire spectrum of Klal Yisroel makes a unanimous proclamation that our true essence is Torah, and all other toil that we involve ourselves with is only a necessary means to further our spiritual pursuits. This is how we celebrate Shavuos. We are misromem, and in turn we are zoche to the romemus of matan Torah.

The romemus that a Jew strives to achieve in preparation for Kabolas HaTorah is truly a high spiritual pursuit. It entails deep introspection and a step- by-step process of cleansing one's self of goals and desires which are contrary or detrimental to spiritual development. Such cleansing cannot be achieved overnight. The process of disconnecting ones self from his daily routine, dealings, and interests -- of becoming a true ben Torah -- must be approached step by step, day by day.

The preparation for Shavuos is a 49-day process. There are 49 facets of preoccupation -- distraction -- from the truth. These are known as the 49 levels of tumah. The days of Sefirah are a day-by-day climb out of the trenches of the world of omeil melocho, which can bring one down to the deepest levels of tumah. During Sefirah, we strengthen ourselves daily, working on making our Torah keva and our melocho arai.

Throughout the year we make many investments -- emotional, intellectual, and material -- in "our world." During the days of Sefiras HaOmer we proclaim that these are only necessary means, and not ends. Our essence is purely Torah and nothing else. The days of Sefirah are days of romemus, when we take the clarity of emunah which we received on Pesach and mold and dedicate ourselves to living according to those principles. Higher and higher we rise, out of the depths of tumas Mitzrayim. Every day we count, each day one step closer to the day of complete romemus.

All material on this site is copyrighted and its use is restricted.
Click here for conditions of use.