The period of Sefiras HaOmer is known as the time of
preparation for kabolas haTorah. It is also the period
of mourning for R' Akiva's talmidim. There is an aspect
of sefiroh that can help us look at this yearly
occurrence in a new light and also give us an appreciation of
why it was during sefiroh that R' Akiva's students
The Torah gives jurisdiction for the establishment of the
Jewish calendar to the beis din. Even when the moon is
clearly visible, if the beis din feels that there is a
need, they may delay being mekadesh the new month. This
in turn, affects when yom tov falls out. If, chas
vesholom, the institution of beis din would cease to
exist, we would not have the present calendar as established
by Hillel Hasheini and there would be no way for us to
determine dates to celebrate yomim tovim.
It is for this reason that we conclude the brochoh of
kedushas hayom (the middle blessing of Shemoneh
Esrei which describes the essence of the day) for Shabbos
with the words mekadesh haShabbos, whilst on yom
tov we say mekadesh Yisroel vehazmanim. The
kedusha of Shabbos is an inherent feature of the
seventh day, but the kedusha of yom tov is
dependent on kedushas Yisroel. Therefore before we
mention the kedusha of yom tov, we insert the
The holiday of Shavuos is an exception to this rule. The
Torah states that Shavuos is celebrated 50 days after the
Omer is brought, regardless of the day it falls on. It can
actually fluctuate between 5 and 7 Sivan (see Rosh Hashana
6b). After the beis din sanctifies the month of
Nisan, they have no further role to play in the timing of
Shavuos. Even if, hypothetically speaking, the beis din
should lose its authority at that time, the celebration of
Shavuos would not be affected.
It thus seems that Bnei Yisroel have no role in the
sanctification of Shavuos. Yet on Shavuos we also say the
brochoh -- mekadesh Yisroel vehazmanim.
The Sheiltos explains:
"Lo lebeis din bilvad hu dekomizaheir Rachmono lemimni
vekedushi Atsarto, elo lekulhu Yisroel. Detanya: Usefartem
lochem: shetehei sefira lekol echod ve'echod (Menochos
The commandment to count the Omer and to sanctify Shavuos was
not given exclusively to the beis din; it was also
given to Bnei Yisroel [directly] (Sheiltos DeRav Achai
Gaon, Emor 107 as quoted by HaEmek Sheila).
Also the Ohr Somayach on Hilchos Temidim
uMussafim (7:22) explains the difficult position of
Rabbeinu Yeruchom that counting days is deOraisa even
today, and counting weeks is deRabbonon. The Ohr
Somayach says that since in counting the days we sanctify
Shavuos, it is still a mitzvah deOraisa. The counting
of weeks though, is related to the bringing of korbonos
which is obviously dependent on the Beis Hamikdash.
There are two mitzvos of counting in the Torah -- counting
the years until Yovel and counting the Omer. The Netziv
(HaEmek Sheila, ibid.) states that just as the counting
to Yovel sanctifies the Yovel, so too the counting of the
Omer sanctifies Shavuos.
One can make a further comparison. Just as the counting and
the sanctification of Yovel is incumbent upon the beis
din, so too one might think that the counting and
sanctification of Shavuos is also only the beis din's
duty. However, the Torah states usefartem lochem. Each
and every one of us has a mitzva to count and in turn each
and every one of us brings about the sanctification of
Why is Shavuos different from the other yomim tovim?
Shavuos is the anniversary of kabolas haTorah. The
Torah was not only given to the Sanhedrin, it was given
to the entire nation. To emphasize this point, Hashem
determined that Shavuos would be sanctified only through each
and every individual's acceptance of the Torah. Since this
requires spiritual preparation, we were all given the mitzva
of sefiroh. We must all count (the Omer) -- because we
Each individual's process of counting represents his own
struggle to acquire his designated portion of the Torah. He
must count for himself, and cannot fulfill his obligation
through someone else (we do not say shomea ke'oneh when
it comes to sefiroh, see Orach Chaim 489:1;
Mishna Berurah 489:5), for how can another person
acquire the portion of Torah set aside especially for him?
We must all recognize that we have something unique to
contribute to the Torah and without this, the rest of the
nation will be missing something from the Torah. We cannot
rely on others -- we must do it ourselves.
Conversely, we must also appreciate that just as we have our
own portion in the Torah, which we must share with others, so
too, everyone else has their portion, which we must receive
from them. As the Mishna states: "Eizeh hu chochom?
Halomeid mikol odom -- Who is wise? He who learns from
every person" (Ovos 4:1).
The Torah is rechovo minei yom, wider than the ocean
(Iyov 11:9). However knowledgeable someone might be,
there is always something new we can teach or explain to him.
Also however knowledgeable we are, there is always something
that we can learn from others.
One person might be proficient in a certain masechta or
even a seder, while someone else might know another
masechta. They can offer each other assistance in
grasping difficult concepts in the other masechta. One
person might be more analytically inclined, while another has
a very broad background. They should all share with each
other and also accept from one another. But Torah is not just
limited to learning.
In parshas Bamidbar the posuk states:
"Ve'eileh toldos Aharon uMoshe beyom dibeir Hashem es
Moshe Behar Sinai" (Bamidbar 3:1) -- "These are the
offspring of Aharon and Moshe on the day Hashem spoke with
Moshe at Har Sinai."
The Torah continues with a listing of Aharon's children, but
there is no mention of Moshe's offspring. Rashi's deduces
from this that one who teaches his friend's son Torah is
considered to have given "birth" to him.
This is truly an insightful lesson. However, this parsha
seems an unusual place to teach it. Parshas Bamidbar
only discusses the counting of the Bnei Yisroel. Wouldn't
it be more fitting to mention this lesson which pertains to
the significance of talmud Torah in a parsha
which discusses many Torah laws? (e.g., Parshas
Mishpotim contains all the dinim (civil laws) along with
mishpotim and many more mitzvos, Parshas Tazria-
Metzoroh deals with the difficult area of tumah and
What is conveyed by teaching this lesson here in Bamidbar?
The answer is that Torah infuses every aspect of life.
Even a census has to be conducted in the proper manner and
for the proper reasons. Moshe gave over the entire Torah to
Aharon's children, yet he would be considered as a father to
them for having imparted this lesson alone!
We can also see this point by observing an interesting
phenomenon. Most yeshivos and mosdos HaTorah lack
funds. Accordingly, the Roshei Yeshivos are forced to close
their gemoras and go out to raise the necessary funds
to keep their institutions afloat. Since Hashem can
definitely provide for the yeshivos through other means, why
does the Ribono Shel Olam want the Gedolim to go
fundraising? Wouldn't their talmidim gain more from
their presence in the Beis Medrash?
The following episode involving HaRav Shneur Kotler zt'l
illustrates that Hashem is not merely satisfied with the
talmidim one has established in the Beis Medrash. He
also wants the Gedolim to go and influence new talmidim.
Once on a fundraising trip to Memphis, Tennessee, R' Shneur
was advised not to bother soliciting from a certain
individual who was known not to believe in tzedaka. The
Rosh Yeshiva felt that in such a case he definitely wanted to
meet with the person. An appointment was arranged and R'
Shneur ultimately spent close to two hours with the
During that time the man revealed that he was a Holocaust
survivor. He explained that living through that terrible
experience had caused him to lose his faith in G-d and
mitzvos. The Rosh Yeshiva patiently explained to him that
although the Holocaust was a horrific experience, it does not
give us the right to question Hashem's ways. The very fact
that he managed to survive where so many had perished was
certainly grounds for expressing gratitude to the Creator.
When the Rosh Yeshiva got up to leave, he said that in two
hours he had spent talking with this man, he could have seen
several people who would have probably made very generous
contributions. Instead he decided to spend this time with him
in order that he should have the opportunity to acquire a
portion in the world to come through the mitzva of
tzedaka. The gentleman was very touched and wrote out a
check for fifty dollars and thanked the Rosh Yeshiva for
coming (Visions of Greatness vol. 1).
R' Shneur understood that if Hashem sent him to Memphis, he
had a mission to fulfill. Whether it was offering chizuk,
giving shiurim or inspiring individuals who would
not otherwise have an opportunity to see gedolei Yisroel,
there was a reason for his many travels. And who better to
influence than someone who did not believe in giving
tzedokoh. Surely Hashem would insure that the yeshiva's
budget would be met!
In explaining why he had spent so much of his valuable time
with this gentleman for such a small donation, the Rosh
Yeshiva related an anecdote on a similar theme that happened
to his father, R' Aharon Kotler zt'l.
At the onset of World War II, R' Aharon escaped across the
border from Poland into Russia. Afterwards he realized that
in the rush he had inadvertently left his tefillin
behind. Despite the risks involved, he decided to go back
and get the tefillin.
On the return trip to Russia he stopped by a small farm near
the Russian border. He asked if he could stay until nightfall
when it would be safer to cross the border. As it turned out,
the farmer who let him in was a Jew who unfortunately knew
nothing of Yiddishkeit. The farmer watched in
fascination as R' Aharon davened and put on his
tefillin. The Rosh Yeshiva asked if he knew anything
about tefillin. The farmer answered that he had never
put on tefillin. R' Aharon briefly explained what they
were and the great reward in store in Olam Haba for one
who wears tefillin. His host then agreed to put them
That night R' Aharon safely crossed the border again into
Russia. Many years passed and one night the Rosh Yeshiva saw
this same farmer in a dream. The farmer told R' Aharon that
he was in the Olam Ho'emes and when he had come before
the Heavenly Tribunal his chances of getting into Olam
Habo had looked very slim. However, one defending angel
came and said that once the farmer had put on tefillin.
On the merit of this mitzva alone he gained entry into
Olam Haba! Afterwards R' Aharon remarked that all these
years he thought he had returned to find his tefillin.
In reality he had really been sent back by Hashem to help
this Jew earn his place in Olam Habo.
We may not all be great roshei yeshiva, but we still have the
ability to influence others for the good. There are many
people who believe that whatever bnei Torah and
shomrei Torah and mitzvos do, must be what the Torah
prescribes. We need to conduct ourselves with this in mind
and be sure that the lessons we convey, even unintentionally,
are Torah-true. Let us also see a chance encounter with
someone as an opportunity to make an impact on their life.
We must also realize that every encounter with an individual
is a potential learning experience for ourselves. Even a
person of limited learning may have sterling character traits
to learn from. One person might be scrupulously honest in his
business dealings -- are we willing to apply his level of
honesty in our lives?
Another, despite personal hardships manages to greet everyone
with a smile -- be inspired! Someone else is careful to say
brochos with kavonoh or cautiously guard his
speech. These are all opportunities for growth.
This is the lesson we should learn from Sefiroh. Only if
we elevate ourselves together, can we be worthy to receive
the Torah. We all have something to share, and we can all
learn from those around us.
Perhaps we can now understand why R' Akiva's talmidim
perished at this time of year. It is important to note
that the gemara does not say they were mean or rude to
each other, rather they did not treat each other with the
proper respect. More is certainly expected of elite people
such as the students of R' Akiva, but why was their
punishment meted out specifically during Sefiroh?
As we explained, Sefiroh is the time of year when we
prepare for kabolas HaTorah and only when we do this
all together can we have the yom tov of Shavuos and
This awareness highlights the importance of each and every
Jew. When an individual is missing, the gift of Torah is
diminished. If one sees his fellow Jew as a necessary partner
in receiving the Torah, he would surely treat him with
respect. If R' Akiva's talmidim did not respect each
other properly, in at least a small way, it was because they
did not see their peers in this light. Since the Sefiroh
period is specifically set aside to teach this point, they
were judged more harshly at this time of year.
May we learn the lessons of Sefiroh and may we together
strive for continued spiritual growth and re-accept the Torah