Thursday, May 08, 2008

Parshas Emor

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

Our verse contains the mitzvah known as Sefiras HaOmer – counting the Omer. During each successive day of this 7-week period, we are commanded to count the passing days and weeks. There is one unique law about this mitzvah which is difficult to understand. If somebody accidentally forgets to count even one of the days during this period, he may no longer continue counting on successive days with a blessing. Because the entire count is considered to be one big mitzvah, somebody who misses even one day can no longer fulfill the mitzvah that year.

This concept seems to be unparalleled among other mitzvos. If somebody accidentally ate chometz on Pesach, forgot to light a menorah on one night of Chanuka, or ate outside of the Sukkah on Sukkos, nobody would suggest that he is now exempt from continuing to observe the mitzvah during the duration of the holiday. Why is counting the Omer unique in this regard?

The Medrash teaches that Rebbi Akiva grew up as an uneducated and ignorant shepherd. That all changed when at the age of 40, he noticed a rock with a hole which had been born through it by dripping water. He reasoned that if the water could penetrate the hard rock, certainly the Torah (which is also compared to water) could penetrate the soft flesh of his heart. He was motivated to begin learning, starting from scratch with the alphabet until he eventually became the greatest scholar of his generation. Although this story is inspiring, what deeper message did Rebbi Akiva find in the dripping water which gave him confidence in his new undertaking?

Rav Chaim Shmuelevitz explains that when a person wants to boil water, he puts a pot on the stove for one minute until it begins to boil. What would happen if he instead placed it on the stove for 30 seconds, removed it from the flame for five minutes, and then returned it for another 30 seconds? Even though the water would have been on the fire for a full minute, it wouldn’t boil. The obvious explanation is that it isn’t the amount of time that the water is on the flame which is crucial, but the continuity. It is the accumulated power of the heat during 60 uninterrupted seconds which allows the water to boil.

Similarly, Rebbi Akiva was skeptical about his potential for beginning to study Torah at his age. If he had to start from the beginning and could cover only a little ground daily, how much could he really accomplish? However, when he saw the hole in the rock created by the water, he recognized his error. Although each individual drop of water makes no distinguishable impression on the rock, the cumulative effect of their continuous dripping is indeed great. Understanding the power latent in consistency, Rebbi Akiva set off to study daily until he became the leader of the generation.

The 7-week period of the Omer is one in which we prepare to celebrate the giving of the Torah at Mount Sinai on Shavuos. As a result, Rav Eliezer Fireman suggests that the Torah specifically requires us to count the Omer without missing a day to symbolically teach us the importance of stability in our Torah study. Rebbi Akiva teaches us that the key isn’t the age at which we start, but rather the consistency of our studies. If we persevere, the “hole” will be greater than the sum of the parts!

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

The Mishnah in Shabbos (2:5) discusses if and when it is Biblically prohibited to extinguish a burning candle on Shabbos. If a person does so because he is afraid of non-Jews or robbers, for medicinal purposes, or so that a sick person may sleep, it is Biblically permitted. If, however, he extinguishes the flame because he wishes to preserve the candle, the oil, or the wick, it is forbidden.

However, the Mishnah uses a peculiar expression when discussing the latter case. It discusses a person who puts out the fire because it is as if (כחס) he wants to save the candle, oil, or wick. Why does it refer to him as somebody who wishes to save money and not as one who is actually doing so?

The Gemora in Beitzah (16a) teaches that a person’s income for the year is determined on Rosh Hashana. However, the Gemora adds that the money one spends for the honor of Shabbos or Yom Tov or for the education of his sons is an exception to this rule. They are in a separate category, and whatever additional money a person spends for these purposes will be added to his preordained annual salary.

Therefore, the Vilna Gaon explains that somebody who extinguishes a candle on Shabbos in an attempt to save money by sparing the candle, the oil, or the wick, is in reality saving nothing. Had he allowed it to burn fully for the sake of Shabbos, the additional cost thereby incurred would have been repaid to him. The Mishnah therefore stresses that one who puts out the flame on Shabbos is only attempting to save money, as in reality the expenses of Shabbos are part of a separate calculation, and he ultimately will have no additional funds to show for his sin!

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 related that there was a Jew who brought his esrog to the synagogue each year and proudly showed it to the other men present. After asking how much they thought it was worth, he would smugly 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 shopping for an esrog immediately after Yom Kippur. Because demand is high at that time, the merchants are able to raise prices to very elevated levels. Recognizing this, he delayed his shopping until the afternoon of Erev Sukkos. At that time, the sellers realized that they had no chance of selling their remaining inventory and were happy to receive any token price.

The story bothered Rav Shlomo Zalman, and he approached the man to rebuke him. He told the man that the Gemora in Beitzah (16a) records a dispute between Shammai and Hillel regarding the proper manner in which to honor Shabbos. Shammai maintained that we should already begin preparing for Shabbos on Sunday. Whenever Shammai found a nice animal for sale, he would purchase it for Shabbos. If he found a nicer one later in the week, he would buy the new one for Shabbos and eat the first one.

The Gemora relates that Hillel had a different approach – מידה אחרת היתה לו. He trusted Hashem each day to provide him with his needs for that day. He would immediately consume anything he purchased at the beginning of the week and would wait until Friday to purchase his Shabbos needs.

Rav Shlomo Zalman questioned why Hillel didn’t conduct himself in the manner that Shammai did, which seems to be the preferable approach. Further, what is the meaning of the Gemora’s phrase היתה לו (he had)? He explained that the Gemora emphasizes this to teach that Hillel conducted himself with this bitachon in all areas of his life, both in mitzvah performance and in his personal affairs. If he needed to purchase a new shirt, he didn’t do so in advance. He waited until just before he needed to wear it, trusting that Hashem would provide him with it at that time.

Because this was Hillel’s style across-the-board, he was permitted to use this approach for doing mitzvos. However, a person who conducts himself differently in areas relating to his personal needs, preparing in advance to guarantee himself the best item, but waits until the last minute in spiritual matters isn’t demonstrating financial savvy but a cavalier lack of respect for Hashem’s mitzvos!

Answers to the weekly Points to Ponder are now available!

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

1) Our parsha begins (21:1) with the laws governing the Kohanim, the first of which is a prohibition against becoming impure through contact with the dead. Rashi notes that in teaching this prohibition, the Torah contains an apparent redundancy, with Hashem telling Moshe to relate it twice. Rashi explains that the second command was an instruction for the adult Kohanim to take care that their minor children not become impure through the dead. Why are the Kohanim cautioned regarding their children’s compliance more than anybody else? (Oznayim L’Torah)

2) The last Mishnah in Gittin (90a) discusses when a man may divorce his wife. Beis Shammai maintains that he may do so only if she commits an immodest act, while Beis Hillel opines that he may do so if she merely burned his food, and Rebbi Akiva posits that he may do so even if he finds another woman who is more attractive. According to Beis Shammai, why does the Torah need to forbid (21:7) a Kohen to marry a divorced woman when she would be forbidden to him regardless as a harlot? (Chida in P’nei Dovid, Derech Sicha Vol. 2, Har Tzvi)

3) The Torah commands us (21:8) to sanctify the Kohanim and to treat them respectfully. Does this include allowing Kohanim to skip to the front of a line? (Bishvilei HaParsha)

4) The Torah forbids us (22:32) to desecrate Hashem’s name, which our Sages teach (Yoma 86a) is the greatest sin a person can do. Is there any way to repent for this sin? (Rabbeinu Bechaye)

5) Can a person fulfill his obligation to count the Omer (23:15-16) by writing that day’s count on paper, or must he verbally say it? (Shu”t Rav Akiva Eiger 30-32, Shu”t Chasam Sofer 6:19, Shu”t K’sav Sofer Yoreh Deah 106, Aruch HaShulchan 489:9, Piskei Teshuvos 489:11)

6) Rashi writes (24:10) that the blasphemer was upset about the Lechem HaPanim. He argued that if a human king is served warm, freshly-baked bread every day, it is disrespectful to serve Hashem old, stale week-old bread in the Temple. When another Jew rebuked him for speaking disparagingly about the mitzvos, they began fighting, at which time the scoffer blasphemously uttered Hashem’s name. How is it possible that somebody who was motivated by a desire to increase Hashem’s honor and glory fell so quickly and drastically, to the point that he committed the ultimate disrespect to Hashem by blasphemously invoking His Holy name? (Yalkut Yehuda)

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