Friday, May 04, 2007

Parshas Emor

וספרתם לכם ממחרת השבת מיום הביאכם את עמר התנופה שבע שבתות תמימת תהיינה (23:15)

Rav Yitzchok Zilberstein relates that a sickly centenarian once approached him shortly before Pesach with an interesting halachic question. The law is that one who forgets or for any reason is unable to count even one night of Sefiras HaOmer is unable to continue counting on successive nights with a blessing, as the nightly counting over the course of the 7 weeks is considered to be one extended mitzvah. According to many opinions, the blessings which he recited until then are retroactively considered to have been in vain. The man’s doctors had told him that based on his poor medical condition, he would surely die before Shavuos, 7 weeks later. He therefore wanted to know whether he was permitted to recite the nightly blessing when beginning to count Sefiras HaOmer, as the laws of nature seemed to indicate that he would be prevented from successfully completing the mitzvah, thus invalidating his blessings.

Rav Zilberstein responded that when a clever child has a tremendous craving for a sweet which his mother refuses to give him, he will simply recite its appropriate blessing שהכל נהיה בדברו, essentially forcing his mother to give him some in order that his blessing not be in vain. Similarly, he advised the man that specifically by beginning to count with the recital of the accompanying blessing, he could in effect “force” the Heavenly Court to allow him to remain alive – against the doctor’s prognosis – until after Shavuos in order to complete the mitzvah. It shouldn’t be surprising, then, to note that the man died the week after Shavuos!

דבר אל בני ישראל לאמר בחדש השביעי באחד לחדש יהיה לכם שבתון זכרון תרועה מקרא קדש (23:24)

The Meiri writes in his commentary to Rosh Hashana that the story of Chana’s conception after years of enduring the pain and frustration of her inability to give birth is read as the Haftorah on the first day of Rosh Hashana as a lesson in the power of heartfelt prayer on this special day. However, the Medrash (Yalkut Shimoni Bereishis 78) states that Chana was barren for 19 years and 6 months prior to the birth of Shmuel. It is reasonable to assume that a number of Rosh Hashanas had passed on which Chana prayed with great intensity and was nevertheless unanswered. What was unique about her petitions at this time that caused them to be answered?

Rav Aharon David answers with a beautiful insight. We are told earlier (Shmuel 1 1:3-7) that every year when her husband Elkanah would ascend to the Mishkan in Shiloh in order to bring sacrifices, he would give the best portion to his beloved Chana. Nevertheless, Chana was unable to enjoy it as Elkanah’s other wife, Penina, would provoke and anger her, leaving her crying and unable to eat. Noticing this, Elkanah asked her (Shmuel 1 1:8) why she cried and refused to eat, noting that even if she was in pain over her inability to bear him even one child while Penina had already borne him ten children, “am I not better to you than ten children?”

Until that point, Chana had always assumed that her barrenness pained Elkanah as much as it hurt her, and that he therefore prayed for her with the same intensity that she did. Although she had obviously prayed with great fervor, there was nevertheless a degree of desperation which was missing due to her reliance on the assistance of Elkanah’s prayers. Upon realizing that he had made peace with the situation by concluding that their relationship was more valuable than the birth of a child, she recognized that her entire fate was solely dependent on the power of her prayers. Armed with this newfound conviction, she prayed as never before, and it was in that fateful 19th year that her heartfelt prayers were finally answered!

דבר אל בני ישראל לאמר בחדש השביעי באחד לחדש יהיה לכם שבתון זכרון תרועה מקרא קדש (23:24)

The Gemora in Rosh Hashana (34a) quotes various opinions regarding the sound the Torah intended when it instructed us (Bamidbar 29:1) to blow the shofar on Rosh Hashana. In order to avoid doubt and to perform the mitzvah according to all opinions, we are accustomed to blow three different sounds: tekiah, shevarim, and teruah. The Shelah HaKadosh writes that although we sound the shofar according to each possible interpretation, there is nevertheless a specific order in which we arrange the sounds. When blowing them all together, we first blow the simple tekiah, then the three shevarim sounds, then the broken teruah’s, and finally another unbroken tekiah. This order was specifically chosen in order to symbolize for us the concept of repentance.

Shlomo HaMelech writes in Koheles (7:29) האלקים עשה את האדם ישר והמה בקשו חשבנות רבים – Hashem made man straight, but people sought out numerous complex calculations. We begin by sounding an unbroken tekiah to symbolize the simple, straightforward manner in which Hashem initially created us. Unfortunately, as the verse prophesies, we inevitably complicate situations unnecessarily, as represented by the broken sounds of the shevarim. As if that weren’t sufficient, we fail to recognize the error of our ways until we have reached rock bottom, as suggested by the short crying sounds of the teruah. Sometimes it is only after a person has reached the nadir that he is able to recognize how far he has fallen from his original heights, and it is this realization which jolts and inspires him to full and proper repentance, allowing him to return to the straight tekiah just as he was created!

ולקחתם לכם ביום הראשון פרי עץ הדר כפת תמרים וענף עץ עבת וערבי נחל

ושמחתם לפני ד' אלקיכם שבעת ימים (23:40)

Rav Shlomo Zalman Auerbach recounted that there was a Jew who each year would bring his esrog to the synagogue and proudly show it to the other men present. After asking them to tell him how much they thought it was worth, he would proudly boast that he had actually paid only one shilling (a very small amount). When they asked him how he was able to get such a beautiful esrog for such a cheap price, he explained that most people go to shop for an esrog immediately after Yom Kippur. Because demand is so high at that time, the merchants are able to raise the prices to very high levels. He, on the other hand, would wait until the afternoon of the day before the beginning of Yom Tov. At this time, the sellers realized that they had no chance of selling their remaining inventory and were happy to receive for it at least a token price.

Rav Shlomo Zalman commented that this story bothered him greatly and he once approached the man to rebuke him. The Gemora in Beitzah (16a) tells of a dispute between Shammai and Hillel regarding the proper manner in which to honor Shabbos. Shammai maintained that one should already begin preparing for Shabbos on Sunday. Whenever he found a nice animal for sale, he would purchase it for Shabbos, and if he subsequently found a nicer one later in the week, he would buy the new one for Shabbos and eat the first one. The Gemora relates regarding Hillel that מידה אחרת היתה לו – he had a different approach – in that he trusted in Hashem each day to provide him his needs for that day. He would therefore immediately consume anything he purchased at the beginning of the week and would wait until Friday to buy his Shabbos needs.

Rav Shlomo Zalman questioned why Hillel didn’t conduct himself in the way that Shammai did, which would seem to be the preferable approach? Further, what is the meaning of the Gemora’s phrase היתה לו (he had)? The Gemora emphasizes this to teach that Hillel conducted himself with this bitachon (trust) in all areas of his life, both in mitzah performance and in his personal affairs. If he needed to purchase a new shirt, he didn’t do so in advance but waited with faith until just before the time that he actually needed to wear it. The Gemora stresses that this was his individual style across the board, even when it was directly pertinent to his personal well-being, and as a result he was permitted to apply this approach to doing mitzvos. However, a person who conducts himself differently in areas relating to his personal needs, planning and preparing in advance in order to guarantee himself the best item, but attempts to wait until the last minute in spiritual matters isn’t demonstrating financial savvy but rather his cavalier lack of respect for Hashem’s mitzvos!

בסכת תשבו שבעת ימים כל האזרח בישראל ישבו בסכת (23:42)

If a person’s sukkah isn’t large enough for everybody to fit in it, meals can be eaten in shifts. If people want to sleep in it, sleeping in shifts isn’t very practical. Is it permitted to wait until some of them are sleeping and then gently drag them out of the sukkah?

As far-fetched as this suggestion sounds, Rav Shlomo Zalman Auerbach actually rules that it is permissible! He explains that the mitzvah is only to go to sleep in the sukkah, but once a person is already sleeping he is unconscious and exempt from any further obligation in mitzvos until he awakens. Although permissible, this may not be so feasible, as if the person wakes up while being moved, he must once again return to the sukkah to fall asleep, thereby defeating the entire purpose of the plan.

Nevertheless, Rav Yisroel Reisman suggests a more practical application of this ruling. If the weather forecast calls for a torrential downpour in the middle of the night and a person doesn’t want to be awakened by it, he can simply go to sleep in the sukkah and once he is sound asleep, somebody can spread a solid cover across the top of the sukkah. Although doing so invalidates the sukkah, the person is already sleeping and therefore exempt from the mitzvah, and doing so will allow him a warm and dry night’s sleep!

Parsha Points to Ponder (and sources which discuss them):

1) The mitzvah of counting the Omer requires one to begin counting the days from the 2nd day of Pesach until the day before Shavuos, which is the 49th day. If one continues counting beyond that point (e.g. with Shavuos being the 50th day), does he violate the Torah prohibition (Devorim 4:2) against adding to the mitzvos?

2) Why is the Yom Tov referred to as Rosh Hashana (literally, head of the year) instead of a seemingly more appropriate name such as Yom HaDin (the day of judgment) or the name by which it is referred in the Torah (Bamidbar 29:1), Yom Teruah (the day of blowing the shofar)?

3) Rosh Hashana is the day on which Hashem judges every person for his actions over the previous year. Wouldn’t it be more appropriate to judge people on the last day of the previous year rather than on the first day of the new year?

4) Although one is forbidden to blow the shofar when Rosh Hashana falls on Shabbos, if he did so regardless, does he fulfill the mitzvah of blowing the shofar? (Rav Akiva Eiger in Drush V’Chiddush 8, Shu”t Avnei Nezer Yoreh Deah 141, Shu”t Roshei Besomim 144, K’tzei HaMateh 588, Kava D’Kashisa 99, Chochmas Shlomo and Toras Chaim on Shulchan Aruch 588, Shu”t Maharshag 1:36, Shu”t Har Tzvi 2:88, Piskei Teshuvos 588:1)

5) Is rain always considered a curse on Sukkos, and if not, under what circumstances is it deemed so? (Peirush Mishnayos L’Rambam Sukkah 2:9, Ritva and Meiri Taanis 2a d.h. Amar Rebbi Yehoshua, Maggid Meishorim Parshas Emor, Bikkurei Yaakov 639:39, Aruch HaShulchan 639:20, Shu”t Zichron Yehuda 183)

6) The Medrash states that in addition to their decrees against the mitzvos of Shabbos, Rosh Chodesh, and circumcision, the Greeks also wanted to forbid the observance of Sukkos. In response, Hashem said that because they attempted to eliminate the 8-day holiday of Sukkos, Hashem would reward us with the 8-day festival of Chanuka. For what reason were the Greeks opposed to Sukkos more than to other mitzvos, and in what way is the holiday of Chanuka considered a measure-for-measure compensation for their attempt to eradicate Sukkos?

7) We refer to Sukkos in our prayers as זמן שמחתינו (the time of our happiness). How can it be that we are expected to reach the pinnacle of joy at a time when we are required to leave all of the security and familiarity of our comfortable homes and live in crowded, unfurnished, temporary dwellings for a week? (Darkei Mussar, Rav Dovid Soloveitchik quoted in M’orei HaMoadim)

8) Rashi explains (23:36) that the festival of Shemini Atzeres is Hashem’s way of saying that after we have spent so much time together with Him in the sukkah, it is difficult for Him to separate from us and He therefore asks us to linger one more day. How will this solve the problem of the painful separation, which will presumably only become more difficult after spending additional time together? (Darkei Mussar, Tiferes Torah)

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