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19 Iyar 5760 - May 24, 2000 | Mordecai Plaut, director Published Weekly








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Opinion & Comment
Avodas Hashem During Sefiras HaOmer

by HaRav Yeshayahu Lieberman

An important part of a Jew's avodas Hashem is to rise higher and higher, to forsake the lowliness of material deeds, and to strive to reach lofty kedusha and tohoroh. He must aspire to be zoche to the Torah that Hashem, in His great mercy, has given to the Jewish Nation.

Chazal enumerate forty-eight levels that are needed to attain a kinyan on the Torah. If we look closely we will see that these ways are built of acts of bringing one nearer to Torah and disassociating ourselves from a worldly behavioral routine, from lowliness.

During the period of sefiras ha'omer we count each day that passes until we reach the forty-ninth day. On the fiftieth day we celebrate Shavuos, the yom tov of receiving the Torah.

This counting begins on the second day of our redemption from Egypt. The Chinuch (mitzvah 306) cites a reason for sefiras ha'omer that is related to this fact. He writes that sefirah links the Exodus from Egypt, in which Hashem took His people out with a mighty hand, to an exalted objective: Bnei Yisroel accepting the Torah.

". . . that they might receive the Torah, which is the main reason why they were redeemed . . . and since [receiving the Torah] is Yisroel's foremost objective, and it was because of it we were redeemed and achieved so much greatness, we were commanded to count from the day after the yom tov of Pesach until the day of receiving the Torah. This [counting] shows our great desire for this distinguished and elevated day, a day that our heart yearns for as an [exhausted] slave craves for the shade."

The primary message of the Chinuch is that Yisroel's redemption, being freed from the yoke of Egypt, was so they would afterwards receive the Torah. Our nation's entire existence is dependent upon the Torah.

Let us add another point: Hashem has taught us what He demands in our avoda to Him. This avoda is essential to the Jewish Nation's eternal existence and their zechus to have the Torah. A man's aspiration must be to rise from his present lowly spiritual level and ascend to the kedusha we gained at Sinai.

What is this avoda? We will clarify this by means of answers to questions.

1) Why are these days called sefiras ha'omer? We were commanded to bring the minchas ha'omer on a certain date, and from that day we begin counting as the Torah tells us, "You shall count for yourselves from the morrow of the shabbos, from the day that you bring the omer of the waving" (Vayikra 23:15). This is, however, not a sufficient reason to call the entire period of forty-nine days during which we count sefiras ha'omer, merely because of the day we start counting.

This is particularly difficult since, according to the reason that the Chinuch gives, it would have been more fitting to call these days sefiras HaTorah.

2) Why are the shtei halechem sacrificed on Shavuos called "a new mincha" (ibid., 23:16)? In which way is it newer than any other korbon or mincha that we sacrifice once a year?

3) Many rishonim and acharonim ask the following question: why does the Torah call the first day of Pesach a "shabbos"? -- "And he shall wave the omer before Hashem to be accepted for You; on the morrow after the shabbos the Cohen shall wave it" (Vayikra 23:11), and "You shall count for yourselves from the morrow after the shabbos, from the day that you bring the omer of the waving" (v. 15). The gemora (Menochos 65b) informs us that the wording in the posuk caused the Baitusim to claim that the mitzvah comes after a Shabbos Bereishis, meaning that it must be on a Sunday, until Chazal explained its real meaning.

The Torah calls every yom tov by a name that shows its essence. It seems, accordingly, that it would have been more appropriate to give Shavuos a name referring to yetzias Mitzrayim or chag HaMatzos. Furthermore, what does "shabbos" have to do with Pesach? The mentioning of "shabbos" caused us to have a dispute with the Baitusim who erred about this word's meaning. Why was all this necessary?

4) The minchas ha'omer that we offer on Pesach is made of barley. The shtei halechem that we sacrifice afterwards, on Shavuos, come from wheat.

The difference between wheat and barley is that wheat is considered a food usually eaten by people, while barley is usually eaten by animals. "Just as [the sotah's] acts were acts of an animal so her korbon [of barley] is from animal food" (Sotah 14).

Our question is why do we first offer as a korbon a mincha made from an inferior type of food (used for animals), while afterwards we bring the shtei halechem made from food fit for people?

We can understand this according to what we previously mentioned, that a man's duty in this world is to ascend higher and higher. He must leave his lowly condition and in that way be zoche to the Torah that Hashem has given us in love.

Concerning our third question, why this yom tov is called "shabbos," this can be resolved according to the Bnei Yissochor's explanation of the differences between the concept of Shabbos and mo'ed.

Shabbos is a concept of kedusha being granted abundantly by Hashem. It is not dependent upon what we do. Even if we do not do anything to bring it, there is kedusha in Shabbos since it comes from Hashem. It does not need the kiddush of beis din. "For it is kodesh for you" (Shemos 31:14) -- "I Have a good present in my storage houses and it is called Shabbos" (Shabbos 10).

Yom Tov is different. It is called a mikro kodesh since we cause the kedusha to come by our deeds, and kedushas yom tov is dependent upon the kiddush of beis din.

This difference is apparent in the text of the brochos that we say: on Shabbos we say the brocho of Mekadesh haShabbos, while on yom tov we make the brocho of Mekadesh Yisroel vehazemanim."

Pesach as a Shabbos

In this way the importance of the first day of Pesach is more similar to that of Shabbos, since it was originally given to us through Hashem's chesed and not through our acts or efforts.

Hashem thus sought to hint to us and guide us in the way of avodas Hashem -- of how to acquire Torah.

The yom tov is called Shabbos since we had not yet been zoche to anything through our own efforts. The mincha that we bring comes from barley, an animal food, to show us that livelihood comes from Hashem through His chesed. Just as Hashem sustains animals simply because He created them and not because of the way they act so we, at the time of leaving Egypt, were "naked of mitzvos."

Our yetzias Mitzrayim was brought about for the desired objective of later receiving the Torah. However, to be privileged to receive such a significant gift -- the Holy Torah -- we must ascend and stop being passive, and begin doing acts that bring us zechuyos. We therefore count the days from Pesach and always add on the days and weeks from our origin, so that we will remember our beginning, the omer of animal food. We try to stop being like animals so that we will ascend to the level of people, and thus be worthy to receive the Torah and fulfill its mitzvos. After receiving the Torah we "offer a new mincha." It is new in relation to the minchas ha'omer that not only reminds us of when we began counting -- "from the day you brought it" -- but also points to our continual and progressive spiritual progress.

During these fifty days we do all that can be done, everything we have been commanded to do, so that we can ascend to the level of men and bring a "mincha that is new" and comes from wheat, so that we can afterwards receive the Torah.

"You shall count for yourselves" is an eternal mitzvah to acquire the Torah, to depart from all that is worldly and from our lowly acts and reach what is desirable -- the level on which we can receive and fulfill what our Creator has commanded us.

HaRav Yeshayahu Lieberman is the Director of the Central Beis Yaakov in Yerushalayim.

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